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In Conversation With… Naomi Milgrom

Entrepreneur, patron of the arts, the brains behind Melbourne’s MPavilon program talks about Living Cities.

Naomi, how was the experience of being Commissioner of this year’s Australian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale?

Incredible. I just loved working with Tracey Moffatt. It took almost eighteen months to put the show together and it was such a privilege to not only work with her but to become her friend. We’ve had so much positive feedback, we’re still getting between 1,500 to 2,000 visitors a day. The Biennale bookshop has sold out of our publication.

Had you known Tracey long?

I had met her on many occasions over the years, but I didn’t know her well. This process has brought us close together. She really seized the opportunity. People had said, “Oh, Tracey should have been at Venice before now”. But I think it was her moment. And it was our moment to work together.

Obviously, you’re an avid art collector but what did you get out of being Commissioner of the Australian Pavilion?

Honestly, it was such a great honour, an enormous joy. I never imagined that as Commissioner you could work so closely with the artist.

You have also propagated a close working relationship with Rem Koolhaas.

Yes, the relationship with Rem but also with David Gianotten (Managing Partner-Architect of OMA) goes back quite some time. As a retailer I was very inspired by Rem’s vision for the Prada store in the downtown Guggenheim building in SoHo, New York. It was such a unique take on what a retail environment could be, something no one had ever thought of before. I began working with OMA some time ago and when I launched the MPavilion program I always had in mind to invite Rem and David and the team at OMA to create the last one in the series of four.

It somehow seems as if the three preceding pavilions – by Sean Godsell, then Amanda Levete, then Bijoy Jain – have been leading up to OMA’s pavilion.

You know, when I asked OMA if they would accept the commission to do it, they leapt at the opportunity. In the context of their massive building portfolio it is a small building, but they’ve taken to it with such verve. They seem to love the challenge of working on a small, experimental structure that is very much about what goes on inside and around it. I was really determined to complete the series of MPavilions with an architect who had contributed enormously to current thinking on architecture and the built environment generally. I had the pleasure of visiting OMA team and Rem at their Rotterdam offices recently, it is extraordinary. The entire ground floor is this bunker-like structure absolutely filled with architectural models. I’d never seen anything like it, the model-making facilities are incredible.

Next Thursday (27.07) the Naomi Milgrom Foundation is hosting the Living Cities Forum at Melbourne’s Federation Square. The lineup of international speakers – including David Gianotten, the V&A’s curator of Architecture & Urbanism, a Pritzker jurist, a L.A. urbanism critic – is judicious rather than glitzy. Has the Living Cities Forum grown out of the MPavilion program, or is it an entirely different beast?

The Living Cities Forum has definitely grown out of the MPavilion program. Melbourne is often referred to as the world’s most liveable city, but what makes it the world’s most liveable city? How is it going to handle the expansion of its population to eight million people by 2051. How are we going to maintain the grain that makes it such a liveable city? These questions were raised by Jan Gehl in conversation with Rob Adams at an MPavilion discussion last year. That conversation started me thinking that we should be able to bring together thinkers and practitioners from around the world to continue the conversation about what actually makes a city a place where the citizens can lead a healthy, productive and prosperous life.

This summer’s MPavilion is the last in the series. I can’t believe you’re just going to stop there, surely you’ve something up your sleeve?

Yes, I’m going to make an announcement at the Living Cities Forum next week.*

So I have to wait til then?

You do.

Naomi Milgrom was In Conversation With… Stephen Todd

*The announcement we – and the wider A+D community – patiently, if eagerly, awaited has come and MPavilion has announced a two-year extension until 2019.





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