A cup made with soot from the Viale Monte Ceneri, would you drink from it?
This is the question for visitors of Milan Design Week October 2020 in the interactive Smogware Café.

For many Milanesi the Viale Monte Ceneri is exemplary for miserable impact of contemporary urban traffic on city life. The capacity of the ring road, of which the Viale is part, was doubled between the ’50 and ‘60 by creating a viaduct with a length of more than 2 km, crossing a densely populated area of Milano. Like in many cities the increase in traffic since then was not foreseen. Today inhabitants of the apartment blocks see the traffic rush past their balconies, keeping their doors and windows closed against noise and smog.

New opportunities

Traffic is not the only source of air pollution in Milan. Heavy industry around the city causes significant “background” emissions. The location of Milan at the foot of the Alps also ensures that the polluted air lingers.

During the first lockdown due to the Coronavirus in the spring, the city council seized the opportunity to prevent even more air pollution with a mobility plan that had been ready for years. If the car were chosen en masse after the lockdown instead of public transport for the daily commuting route, the city would be completely silted up. In the ‘Strade Aperte’ project, 35 traffic street has been ‘opened’ for cyclists and walkers as a safer, healthier and faster alternative.

Smogware Café 1.0

Participating in the Milano Design Week  in October ’20 was the kick off of the collaboration with Milan in the Smogware project. A Smogware espresso bar has been developed together with local partners of the designer collective  The Bench Collective and Emilio Lonardo. Because of Covid-19 all traffic came to a standstill in the run-up to the design week, everything was achieved remotely, creating new opportunities.

In preparation for the Smogware Café, colleagues from The Bench Collective received a ‘particulate matter harvesting instruction’ and went to Viale Monte Ceneri, which literally means ‘Mountain of Ash’. There were indeed mountains of dust beneath the viaduct!

The first espresso cups for the café were made for the time being in the Studio in Rotterdam. The dust contains a remarkable amount of sand. In the summer this is blown over from the Sahara. In the past, the wind seldom brought this fine reddish sand to Milan. But due to increasing drought, the sand increasingly reaches the North. This is reflected in the glaze because the dust melts completely without any additives (the property of sand). In this way the glaze contains another urgent message.

interactive Smogware café Milano

The Smogware café was presented during the  Milano Design Week in October at the headquarters of DOS2020  – Design Open Spaces. This organisation shows designers’ responses to the new context of Corona measures, and the opportunities of bringing real and virtual worlds together. To avoid large gatherings, for example, it took place at various locations throughout the city where via instagram filters objects could be conjured up in the street, which you could ‘really’ walk around.

Such a filter is now also available for Smogware on Instagram, so you can have the Milanese cup on your kitchen table in no time. Available in different colours. Be careful when pouring in your coffee 😉

During the design week, (real) visitors could participate in a SmogWalk through the city. The Bench Collective took the participants on a tour along places where the fine dust particles in the air descend. Participants mined in these “mines” the raw material. Subsequently, participants learned what it took to make glaze from the air pollution for the tableware (very little) and they painted a Smogware medal with their own harvest.

(photos: Giovanni Orlando)

Following the workshop, an (interactive) coffee was offered from the first edition of Milanese Smogware espresso cups. Iris and Annemarie facilitated online discussions from their Rotterdam studio with the various cities where the Smogware project was launched. Each with his or her own local cup.

Meanwhile, Annemarie and Iris like to look in the mirror – at least that of their actions. Participation via parcel post and video calls has in any case saved the entire emissions of two return trips to Milan. Every little bit counts!

Film by the The Bench Collective, Alessandro Ianniello.


Smogware café Milano launches a participative trajectory together with DOS2020 and the Bench Collective towards the Milano Design Week 2021. This first event is possible with the financial support of the Creative Industries Fund NL.

Smogware collaborates with:
The Bench Collective
Vincenzo Curcio