All About Italy (USA)

AND ONE DAY, MILAN

- Elisa Rodi

The Milan of 50 years ago was gray, cold and industrial. Gray for the buildings, cold for the welcome, and industrial in the mentality. Covered with that blanket of fog, it was the metropolis of rigidity in formal clothes. The fog has not disappeare­d, and its soul has maintained its distinctiv­e signs, but what is certain is that something has happened inside Milan: nothing has been taken away from the city, but if anything added, sometimes upsetting its forms and causing its contrasts to become reasons for pride and greater fascinatio­n. If on one side the futuristic skyscraper­s have continued to rise toward the sky, on the other hand, the locals have rediscover­ed the neighborho­ods, repopulati­ng the streets and requalifyi­ng the unused spaces.

It is a Milan that races toward the future and slows down to recover the past, creating the harmony of a city that today finds itself the second most-loved in Europe, for the vivacity and the positivity that have characteri­zed its latest evolution. If the starting point of a voyage in its

Discreetly grown up under the shadow of the Madonnina, Milan today is the city you didn’t expect, but were always waiting for. Requalific­ation and in novation for a new and sustain able beauty.

interior is still Piazza del Duomo, flanked by the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the Royal Palace and the Museum of the 20th Century, its continuati­on is along its branches, where one encounters the elegance of the Teatro della Scala, the history of the Castello Sforzesco, the creative vivacity of the Brera and its painting gallery, and the Roman vestiges of the columns of San Lorenzo. There is beauty, culture and movement in new architectu­re of Milan, in which ancient and modern art, graphic novels and photograph­y, cinema and sport all converge. But the beauty of Milan is that in its new expression it no longer has a “center,” or, at least not a single one. Each neighborho­od has become a heart of the city around which unravel buildings and streets with an independen­t personalit­y. Marking out the geometry of glamour is the “rectangle of fashion,” with its boutiques and designer showrooms inside the confines of via Montenapol­eone, via Manzoni, via della Spiga and corso Venezia: the frontiers of an area in which shopping tourism finds its natural expression.

It is a Milan that races toward the future and slows down to recover the past, creating the harmony of a city that today finds itself the second most-loved in Europe.

More discreet, and far from the world of fashion, there is a more reserved Milan that deserves greater attention for its unwillingn­ess to reveal itself at the view. It is the city of intimate views, fascinatin­g details and discreet courtyards hidden inside the buildings that Milan has seen erected. Milan’s maturity is nourished by ideas, continuous innovation and, obviously, investment. The inhabitant­s have chosen to believe, to wager even more, to invest in changing its serious profile and dressing it with that lightness that is not superficia­l but bewitching. Designing the architectu­ral “new collection” of Milan have been, not by accident, the most important architects, the so-called “archistars,” who with their projects have contribute­d in making the Lombard capital not a simple metropolis but a multifacet­ed soul never taken for granted, because it is too used to stupefying.

CITYLIFE: THE FUTURISM OF A SECOND MILAN

The Straight, the Bent and the Curved: they might be from a film by Sergio Leone, but instead are the fruits of the studios of Daniel Libeskind, Zaha Hadid and Arata Isozaki. These three architects have designed the skyscraper­s of Citylife, the new

building complex that features the three soaring futuristic towers that have already attracted the investment of large insurance groups, with Allianz who will transfer their employees to the Isosaki Tower, and Generali who is waiting for the keys to the skyscraper designed by Zaha Hadid to transfer, probably in 2018, another 3000 workers. We still don’t know who will occupy the third tower, but in the meantime the Citylife Shopping District project goes ahead, designed by Sonae Sierra, an internatio­nal specialist in shopping centers, and which will change the face of an entire zone of the city, constituti­ng a second pole of shopping, duplicatin­g the luxury streets of the center. And obviously the constructi­on will not be simply vertical, but also horizontal, because on the street level a second city will be born, made up of pedestrian areas, gardens and urban requalific­ation. Citylife prepares to be another center of Milan, probably the most commercial one, but certainly among the most vibrant in defining the skyline.

Designing the architectu­ral “new collection” of Milan have been the so-called “archi-stars,” who with their projects have contribute­d in making the Lombard capital a multifacet­ed soul never taken for granted

THE MICROSOFT-FELTRINELL­I PYRAMID: THE DISTRICT OF INNOVATION

Transparen­ce and innovation flow in the new Milan between Porta Volta and Piazza Gae Aulenti. The Fondazione Giangiacom­o Feltrinell­i and Microsoft have found new headquarte­rs there in a building signed by the famous Swiss studio Herzog&de Meuron, or to be exact, two buildings, one after the other between viale Pasubio and viale Crispi, five stories tall (with two basement floors) in the shape of a hut recalling Gothic cathedrals with their facades entirely covered with glass and also a public pedestrian zone with a double file of trees and a bike path.

The exterior design of the complex is immediatel­y recognizab­le in the urban Milanese landscape: visibility, flexibilit­y, energy, dynamism and innovation delineate the profile of the Milan that attract business investment­s and that thanks to this grows and offers itself as a candidate as the working capital of Italy. It is a corner of Milan that returns to the inhabitant­s after 70 years of abandon and that today, with the glass pyramid accentuate­s its concept of openness and its decided upsurge on the internatio­nal level.

THE VERTICAL FOREST: GREENERY ASPIRES UPWARDS

It’s working to become the neighborho­od of a new design pole: we are talking about the Isola district, which like so many areas of Milan, has not pulled back from putting itself into discussion. There, behind Piazza Gae Aulenti and the Unicredit Tower, a new expression of architectu­re has taken form and you only have to glance around for a moment to understand the symbol of the rebirth of this neighborho­od. Some three years ago, Stefano Boeri gave the city the Vertical Forest, the building that would soon win without too much difficulty the title of the world’s most beautiful skyscraper. A forest of around 1000 trees in the middle of Milan developed vertically rather than on the surface, and that takes the form of two skyscraper­s of 111 and 78 meters (364 and 256 feet). In this burst of height there is a new idea of the skyscraper and the response to the necessity of making the city greener while at the same time sustaining an everdenser urban population. The Vertical Forest is the first example in the world of a tower that enriches its host city with plant and animal biodiversi­ty, and a way to confirm that Milan is no longer a simple pouring of cement.

DARSENA: MILAN REFLECTED

History teaches us that all great cities rise where there is water. So Milan has decided to reappropri­ate a mirror of water to reflect its beauty. The new Darsena project responds to both of these necessitie­s and thereby makes pretty much everyone happy. In far-away times the Darsena was the junction of the two principal canals, and for that reason represente­d the port of one of the most important transporta­tion routes for river commerce. Today, that dirty and forgotten basin that crowned the two canals with infamy seems like a distant memory. It needed some 20 million euros and an elite squadron of architects (Edoardo Guazzoni, Paolo Rizzatto, Sandro Rossi and Studio Bodin&associés) to give back the Darsena to a splendor that it perhaps never even knew before. The return of the water, after years of forced drainage, was the essential condition on which the project was founded: making it so that the Darsena once again evoked the connection with the element of water, in order to continue to suggest the theme of a possible reorganiza­tion, of a general redesign extended to the entire city and its territory.

FONDAZIONE PRADA: ARCHITECTU­RE FROM YESTERDAY, STORIES OF TODAY

It was originally a distillery, but today is a cultural space of 19,000 square meters (204,500 square feet) designed by the Dutch architectu­ral studio of Oma under the guide of Rem Koolhas. Seven preexistin­g buildings were reconverte­d and three new ones added to create a unique exhibition space that goes beyond didactic art to welcome inspiratio­n, non-egocentric emotion and, if needed, sober irony. The renaissanc­e of the southern periphery of Milan finds its foundation in the Fondazione: from the glorious citizen workspace composed of factories, tracks and water towers, a culture of sharing is born with art as a collective starting point for a future that takes its structure from the solid architectu­re of the past. The Fondazione Prada is in some ways the extension of a new concept of Milan: not imposing itself on the preexisten­t but giving it new value with the instrument­s of contempora­ry language. The industrial structures and materials get a facelift, while the only concession to luxury appears in the covering of the house-tower called the “Haunted House” and whose exterior walls are covered with 24 carat gold leaf. Till, this flicker of eccentrici­ty, as stressed by Koolhas, “wants only to be a signal of the importance of this interventi­on with regards to the city, of how much art and culture can give added value to what was preciously degraded, transformi­ng what was poor into wealth.” And everything makes one think that this has indeed happened.

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