Milan’s Secret Corners: the Hidden Signs of the 20th Century

What are the hidden marks of last century scattered through the urban landscape of Milan? Here is a tentative journey through the roots of today's city among architecture, history and art

  • Milan’s Secret Corners: the Hidden Signs of the 20th Century
  • Milan’s Secret Corners: the Hidden Signs of the 20th Century
  • Milan’s Secret Corners: the Hidden Signs of the 20th Century
  • Milan’s Secret Corners: the Hidden Signs of the 20th Century

There is a reason if Milan is the world’s undisputed capital of design, celebrated every year by the unmissable Design Week. The 20thcentury has left plenty of marks that reveal the city’s unique taste for architecture, a mixture of courage, aesthetic research and experimentation triggered by cultured and farsighted clients, often belonging to the high industrial bourgeoisie.
In the year 1924, architect Cleopatro Cobianchi designed the first "day hotel" in Milan, which was accessed through an elegant wrought iron staircase leading to the underground space under Via Silvio Pellico, next to Piazza Duomo, housing briarwood counters and decorations, a reading room, a safe to store valuables, meeting rooms and the first travel agency in the city.
Two years later, architect Piero Portaluppi designed another underground ‘day hotel’ in the Porta Venezia district with majestic colonnades and Art Deco decorations, a sort of day spa offering businessmen personal care facilities including showers and a barber shop.
Giò Ponti, one of Milan’s most beloved architects, took care of the restoration of the beautiful Art Nouveau building currently housing the Columbus private clinicdesigned by Giuseppe Sommaruga at the beginning of the 20th century, which was the home of Nicola Romeo, owner of the Alfa Romeo car company. The villa had more than 30 rooms on two floors, a garden and some truly beautiful sculptures of female nudes by Ernesto Bazzaro, brought here from their original location on the façade of Palazzo Castiglioni where they had raised eyebrows to the point that the building was dubbed Cà di Ciap("buttock house"). 
Ponti restored the villa in the 1940s while Milan was being transfigured by the Second World War, which obviously left its marks all over the city, some of which have recently been rediscovered after decades of oblivion.
Platform 21at the Central Railway Station, where the trains to concentration camps left between 1943 and 1945 carrying hundreds of Jews and political refugees, has been transformed into the Holocaust Memorial. Four freight train wagons sit under the infamous track and a timeline describes the period between 1922 and 1945, when politics gradually degenerated into a death machine.
A tall concrete structure, called Matitone(“big pencil”) due to its shape, is reminder of the bombings that the city underwent during the war and that destroyed one third of its buildings. It is in fact a former anti-aircraft shelter which was later enclosed within a huge factory and only became visible again in the 1990s. 
Under the current Giacomo Leopardi primary school in Viale Bodio, in the historic industrial district of Bovisa now home to the Politecnico di Milano and numerous start-ups, is yet another shelter called Rifugio 87where locals rushed to in case of bombings.
Despite wounded by the war, Milan soon regained its role as an open and vibrant city. House 770in via Poerio, 35 is an example of this rebirth: a building in Gothic Dutch style of which there are identical replicas in 16 cities of the world, each housing the activities of the Jewish group Chabad-Lubavitch. The original House 770, which belonged to the group’s founder, is located at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn. Milan’s House 770 was born from the transformation of a traditional Milanese villa curated by architect Stefano Valabrega.

Author : The Slowear Journal


Milan  | hidden city  | art  | culture  | history  |

related articles | Arts & Culture |