In a boxy building with parking lot facing the Ghisolfa overpass, where Milan extends along the axis of the Simplon Park, a suburban area that can boast a new centrality in the city's overall balance thanks to its proximity to the almost completed CityLife district and the upgrading of the Portello area, the MediaWorld store in Viale Certosa - probably the most famous Milanese megastore of the German chain MediaMarkt - becomes TechVillage, in an area described by the company as "central to the technological development of the city of Milan", with a project of 11 thousand square meters of surface designed by Fabio Novembre. This happens in July 2020, when Milan timidly comes back to life after the nightmare of the Coronavirus lockdown. But during the inauguration we are all wearing face masks.
Tech Village was conceived as a multifaceted “experience centre”. However, this evolution of the store rethought for the era of online shopping – which experienced an unprecedented boom during the lockdown – is irremediably and unambiguously still a MediaWorld store. This is immediately apparent from the colours, the bright neon lights, the graphics, the price tags on the shelves, the uniforms of those who work there and the familiar layout of the interior. This is also showed by the pixel-effect coating on the outer wall, with the brand's colours: “this is a multinational company with very clear standards”, says Fabio Novembre to Domus. He also emphasises how everything here is designed with a great attention to detail, like the lighting grid, the concentric columns and the aforementioned façade, which will be characterised by a LED wall “to speak to the city”, while a touch of urban green has been added on the roof. In addition to these already known elements, there are some new features: gaming stations with joysticks and steering wheels, a large area dedicated to urban micro mobility, with bikes and scooters, a lot of coloured sustainable water bottles in the “water treatment” sector, and a wonderful Tesla Model 3 parked near the escalators.
The store, explains Novembre, was inspired by the architectural typology of the square, following a concentric layout, “like in an urban architecture”. At the centre there’s the market - that is, the endless amount of products put on display like in any shopping mall - and then the square, the area dedicated to experiences and meetings, to which is added a “cinema- and video games-inspired” café which focuses on the theme of technology “but with a retro approach“. The most innovative aspect, which makes the megastore resemble a mall, is the presence on its perimeter of a “gallery, embraced by wooden and Corian covered walkways”, and a sequence of “tech mini shops”. These are nothing but miniature monobrand shops, halfway between the concept store and the booth you might find at a trade fair. The list of participating brands is remarkable: there is Sky and Samsung, Huawei and LG, Dyson and HP, but also Haier and Nespresso, AEG and many others. Everyone has brought their own design into the areas, in some cases even personalizing the shop windows. So, the Huawei shop looks like a shop you could visit in a Shanghai shopping mall, the Samsung store looks like one you could see in London, and Apple... well, it's a mini-Apple Store. This is a very explicit narrative of a present in which the brand has always more relevance than the final product. We are living in the years of the logo craze, from the apples on the back of mobile phones to the gigantic Gucci logo on handbags and T-shirts: Naomi Klein will understand this.
Take for example the Xiaomi minishop, which puts on display phones next to the scooters and accessories for the home and so on: this is a kind of MediaWorld wunderkammer for the famous Chinese company that has now conquered the western market. Or the space dedicated to Alexa, Amazon's digital assistant, which is here presented as a brand on its own. More than selling, these mini shops serve to tell the story of the companies and their philosophy. Perhaps, in the future, the central area that is the “market” will disappear or be reduced. The exaggeration of products that we are used to see on the internet will leave more room to experiences and, why not, individual brands. Maybe we will order the products in the mini shops, after a chat with those who work there, and the products will be delivered comfortably to our doorsteps.
Maybe this will happen in the future, but in the meantime, TechVillage remains a store that, although winking at the future, is still strongly focused on the present. And the objects (in huge quantities) are still the real protagonists. Nothing to do with certain other experiments, for example the one by Ikea, which opened some pop-up stores in many city centres offering design services, a small and careful selection of some products, and the possibility to pick up online orders without having to go to the physical store, with its sea of furniture, people and meatballs that we are so attracted to and disgusted at the same time every time we find ourselves spending a Saturday morning in one of the megastores of the Swedish company.
Instead, it was a brave idea to use the vast spaces under the shop to create what is probably the first real eSports arena in Italy, capable of accommodating many players and especially the public. “In the basement we will open Xperion, a space dedicated to the e-gaming world”, explains Guido Monferrini, CEO of MediaWorld Italia. An area of about 2000 square meters that will host an arena, an academy and several rooms designed and built for players, in which they’ll have the opportunity to train. The very same thing will also happen in Cologne, in order to exploit a phenomenon that is having a great success in many areas of the world, like in France, and a little less in our country, even though in Italy we are almost better at playing football with the joystick rather than in real life. A bit like the Tesla on display on the ground floor, which more than an object is a monument, an installation, an area of total discontinuity between the Tech Village and what we have always seen in megastores: a window on a future that reminds incredibly of the present. And who knows how many points it is worth on the loyalty card.