Orlandi with Tall Green Cactus (left) made by Benedetta Mori Ubaldini from used chicken wire, and screens woven with recycled bottles (right) by Massimo Locatelli (Ro Plastic-Master’s Pieces, 2019). - Credits: Photo: Sara Magni
Left, Navy chairs made by Emeco from recycled aluminium. Right, Chubby chairs made from discarded refrigerator interiors. - Credits: Photo: Sara Magni
Prototype of the Alex chaise-longue by Alessandro Mendini for Wet Italia, made in Ecopixel recycled plastic (Ro Plastic-Master’s Pieces, 2019). - Credits: Photo: Sara Magni

An interview with Rossana Orlandi

Few players in the design world have a clearer view of the future than Rossana Orlandi. The renowned Milan-based gallerist’s ability to spot talent verges on the mystical. “I am led by emotion,” she says to describe the sixth sense that has launched the careers of designers like Formafantasma and Piet Hein Eek. “There is no calculation or strategy.” Nor is it a secret that the tap of Rossana Orlandi’s magic wand can make or break a young designer’s career, but in recent years, as the world reaches a boiling point, commercial success just doesn’t taste as sweet as it once did. “I could not remain passive when faced with environmental disaster,” she gravely states. No longer content with only setting the agenda of collectible design and running her gallery, she has identified one of the defining issues of our time: plastic waste.

This foresight led her to launch RoGUILTLESSPLASTIC, an international project that encompasses the Ro Plastic Prize. The award series, now in its second year, highlights by means of an exhibition creative uses of plastic waste. “Plastic is too important to just give up. For example, it is needed for medical supplies. The purpose of RoGUILTLESSPLASTIC is to stimulate the world of design by recycling plastic, starting with company waste,” she says.

The decision to act came after spending a day on the beach with her grandchildren, Rossana Orlandi says of the moment that seeded this curatorial second act. “Coloured plastic waste was scattered on the sand, brought in by the waves. We started playing with it and building sculptures. I said to myself, why not ask creatives and designers to use recycled plastic for their work? It would help dispose of waste on one hand while showing new ways to use it on the other.”

Wanting to “demonstrate recycled plastic’s infinite possibilities,” as she puts it, Rossana Orlandi launched the project in the run-up to the 2019 Fuorisalone. “I organised the Ro Plastic-Master’s Pieces, which involved 26 designers and architects from all over the world interpreting recycled and reused plastic for the first time.” Headline-making friends like Jaime Hayón, Patricia Urquiola, Barnaba Fornasetti and Marcel Wanders were all asked to participate.

But staying ahead of the curve comes with its own difficulties: “When I launched this project in 2018, I received many attacks,” she says of the friction she initially faced. “Few companies were ready for this change, but today, in a short time, I see with great satisfaction the involvement of many companies and multinationals. They have followed the lead of designers in creating new materials and objects made using recycled plastic.”

As momentum builds, “The second edition still has the same purpose, but we are extending the concept to other materials,” she says. This year’s edition will once again take place at Milan’s Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci, as will the Ro Plastic-Master’s Pieces event. “I have invited designers, architects and creatives to try their hand at constructing entire living spaces by reusing various waste materials, not only plastic. This will form the TrashFormation Village.” The Ro Plastic Prize has grown. “It has more than doubled in submissions, with over 800 projects from 5 continents.” Finally, there will be the newly minted Hall of Waste curated by Nicoletta Orlandi Brugnoni, Rossana Orlandi’s daughter. “Hall of Waste is dedicated to organisations and companies involved in the recycling of materials with not only a commercial aim but above all educational and useful.”

The venue was carefully chosen. “It is a great honour to collaborate once again with Fiorenzo Galli, the general director of the Museo della Scienza. We share the same goals. Ours are more creative and artistic; theirs are more technological and scientific. Both of us work to ensure that the public grasps the importance of changing their lifestyle regarding materials, their consumption and their disuse in order to safeguard the future of the planet.”

At the heart of Rossana Orlandi’s work is a clear-headed view of the future, with her family standing front and centre, which is why she has involved her daughter. “I created the RoGUILTLESSPLASTIC project with Nicoletta, a young mother of two. She is committed to preserving the balance of nature. Young people are very attentive, they have great awareness of this serious problem,” she says sagely. “There is a lot to learn from them.”


Article published on the April/May issue of ICON DESIGN.