Short but Sweet – The Milan Encounter

Day 3 – 19th May

Day 3 began with an early start. The group assembled in the lobby weary eyed at 5:30am – breakfast packs and coffees in hand – prepared for todays travels to Milan. Having left a cold and wet Amsterdam the group welcomed the warm Milan sunshine which greeted us upon arrival.

The first building visit in Milan was to ‘Foundation Prada’ by OMA Architects. The gallery is a collection of new and refurbished buildings on a former industrial gin distillery site dating from 1910. Throughout the project, architects OMA aspired to expand the repertoire and manner in which art is exhibited through providing a variable number of gallery spaces. The gallery is comprised of 7 existing buildings and 3 new structures including;

  • The Podium (containing temporary exhibitions)
  • The Cinema (multimedia), and
  • The Tore (permanent exhibition)

The industrial site provides a rich setting for the new insertions and each new building is expressed externally through a singular new material.  The assemblage of buildings can be read as a series of surface tests which cleverly use materials as a means to distort their age, making it difficult to identify between what is the new and old fabric. Aluminium foam, gold leaf and white concrete are the three new materials which sit amongst the existing industrial landscape.

The gallery divided the group. Some enjoyed the suite of buildings and found the spatial journey between old and new compelling, accepting the fractured journey as a product of the site and its past life. Comparatively, some members argued there was a lack of interstitial green landscape and public space between the buildings to facilitate the journey.


The second building visited was the Bocconi Free University by Grafton Architects. The project aspires to knit into its urban site and engage with the surrounding streetscape. Grafton Architects describe that this is achieved through 3 key moves:

  • Establishing a city scale – A generous market hall is intended to extend the life of the street and offer a grand public room back to the city.
  • The floor to the city – The external stone footpath continuing internally aims to create the sense that the university is an extension of the street.
  • A window to the city – Large openings to the facade aim to create a permeable and transparent built edge.

Visiting the university on a weekend and without students to enliven the space made it particularly difficult to judge the buildings success and whether it fulfils the architects original aspirations. Unfortunately, the Saturday afternoon visit revealed a bleak, barren and empty space. This was seemingly the result of a number of elements;

  • The immense scale of the university was overbearing. Whilst the building adopts an urban street scale externally the internal spaces feel incredibly vast and inhumane.
  • The ground plane lacked appropriate and varied program and failed in its contribution to and activation of the street edge.


The buildings singular material use of stone and lack of vegetation in combination with a uniform height contributed to the vast and empty ground plane.

The group questioned the role of the university building in the context of the city and argued the responsibility of the building to perform and engage with the streetscape and city at all times, not just during the busy university weekdays.

The final stop of Day 3 looked at two buildings:

  • Fondazione Feltrinelli (Herzog + de Meuron) 2008-2016
  • Bosco Verticale (Boeri Studio) 2009-2014

Bosco Verticale by Boeri Studio has an admirable ecological and social agenda and aims to contribute to controlling and reducing sprawl and increase urban biodiversity in Milan.  Upon approach the ecological aspiration is well understood with the balconies bursting with greenery. This project was very successful in providing a green living landscape however most of the group agreed that the project would be more successful if there was increased access to the gardens from the apartments. Currently the greenery is more appreciated by people external to the building rather than serving the benefit of the residents.  Additionally, there appeared to be a lack of windows to enjoy the vegetation and quite constricted balcony access.

Amongst the group there was much discussion surrounding the maintenance strategy for the significant facade and balcony planting. Whilst the project has wonderful intentions to tackle Milan’s inner city density, our guide indicated that the apartment rent is incredibly unaffordable at $5000 Australian dollars/ month.

Hannah Slater is a practicing Architect currently working in Sydney with Neeson Murcutt Architects. She completed her studies in Architecture and Interior Design at the Queensland University of Technology. Following her education she spent time in Johannesburg, South Africa, working with Peter Rich Architects on a number of significant cultural projects.

Related Content

View more