Fondazione Prada & Bar Luce

For me, a visit to Milan means the chance to indulge in delicious food and inspiring fashion, design, and architecture. During a recent trip, I ventured beyond the heart of the city for a visit to the new permanent headquarters of Fondazione Prada, the art foundation established by Miuccia Prada and her husband, Patrizio Bertelli, in 1993. Open since mid-2015, it’s a stunning Gesamtkunstwerk—a multidisciplinary arts complex that brings together architecture and visual art, film, literature, performance, philosophy, science, and leisure into dialogue with each other and with the wider public.

Located in Milan’s southern industrial outskirts, separated from the city proper by a swathe of train tracks, Fondazione Prada had taken over the former premises of Società Italiana Spiriti, a gin distillery built in the early 1900s. From the outside, it seemed quite unassuming, with its perimeter of old, gray stucco buildings. But then I saw the neon sign, and a flash of gold from a building just beyond the gate, and my curiosity grew.

Photos: Fondazione Prada / Bas Princeton

The 19,000 square-meter complex had been transformed by Dutch architects OMA, led by Rem Koolhaas, in a carefully conceived, eight-year-long process of restoration, preservation, and innovation. Seven of the site’s original buildings were restored, and three new ones were built. It’s a mix of old and new, of different materials, colors, and sizes.


The “Podium,” with full-length windows, innovative aluminum foam cladding, and travertine floors, is one of the main gallery spaces. The mirrored “Cinema” is a transformable multimedia auditorium that can open on both sides. “Torre” (as of mid-2016, not yet complete) is a white concrete, ten-story tower with a rooftop restaurant; each level is one meter higher than the one preceding it, for a varied effect on the artistic content.

Photos: Fondazione Prada / Bas Princeton

The crown jewel is the four-story “Haunted House.” To highlight the original structure of the former storage building built in 1918, it is clad in 24-carat gold leaf. Other renovated buildings include the long “Nord” and “Sud” galleries, the freestanding “Cisterna,” and the massive “Deposito,” a combination storage, and exhibition hangar. The “Biblioteca” holds children’s workshops, and a library is planned there for the future. Connecting the buildings are cobblestone pathways and piazzas of discovery and interaction.

“Fondazione Prada will not be a museum, but rather the continuation of an intellectual process founded on the exploration of doubt and on extensive research.” – Miuccia Prada

With so much to see in this labyrinthine village—some call it a city—I definitely needed a break. And what would a village be without its local bar?

Photo: Fondazione Prada / Bas Princeton
Photo: Fondazione Prada / Attilio Maranzano

Bar Luce is arguably the most “accessible” of the foundation’s buildings, as there are two doors: one on the inside of the complex, the other directly on Via Orobia. Designed by U.S. film director, Wes Anderson, it evokes the spirit of traditional Milanese cafés and Italian aesthetics from the 1950s and ’60s, with echoes of Andersen’s own highly stylized film sets.

Photo: Fondazione Prada / Attilio Maranzano

The details say it all—from the wood paneling and candy-colored Formica furniture, to the pinball machines and jukebox, and the lace doilies and sugar packets. Trompe l’oeil wallpaper on the vaulted ceiling and walls emulate Milan’s iconic Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, where the first Prada store opened in 1913.

Photo: Sibylle
Photo: Fondazione Prada / Attilio Maranzano

While the experience at Bar Luce is certainly an aesthetic one, it’s also authentic in its offerings, with fresh croissants and cakes, panini, and prices on par with any normal bar in Milan—an espresso costs little more than 1 euro—unthinkable in Germany!

Not to imply that the rest of Fondazione Prada is any less accessible. It’s open six days a week, from morning to evening, with a reasonable entrance fee of €10 (reductions for students and groups, and free entry for children, seniors, etc.).

With so much to offer, a single day is hardly enough to take it all in—Fondazione Prada, I’ll be back soon!

Until then, here’s “Castello Cavalcanti,” Wes Anderson’s charming short film for Prada, in which the life of the town revolves around a classic Italian café-bar:

Fondazione Prada
Largo Isarco, 2
20139 Milan

General hours:
Mon / Wed / Thu, 10:00 a.m.–8:00 p.m.; Fri / Sat / Sun, 10:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m.

Bar Luce hours:
Mon / Wed / Thu, 9:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m.; Fri / Sat / Sun, 9:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m.