MILAN (IT) - DEMO architects won a competition for new residential developments in Milan with a Dutch-looking structure that has an Italian spirit at its heart.
This project, awarded first place in a competition organized by Federabitazione – an association that represents approximately 600 building contractors working in the low-cost housing sector – has a Dutch structure and an Italian spirit. One look at the architectural team tells us why this might have been expected: six of the architects known as DEMO (there are another two who did not participate in the competition) met in Italy and moved to Holland, where some of them completed their Master's studies, gained professional experience and/or carried out research that resulted in publications: one of these is Undutchable, by Giampiero Sanguigni (Meltemi editore, Rome 2006), a survey of Dutch architecture from 2000 to 2006.
In reality, the building they proposed for the eastern periphery of Milan is in many ways reminiscent of Frits van Dongen's Whale building on the Sporenburg Peninsula in Amsterdam. We find the same courtyard typology, the same 'Swiss cheese' facade made up of numerous modular windows, and the same openings at grade ensuring continuity between exterior spaces and the internal courtyard, openings that appear to have been made by a giant hand that has lifted and deformed the building. The Italian influence can be felt in a greater attention to context and formal attractiveness.
The latter is pursued by eschewing the Whale's monolithic compactness in favour of a bipartite articulation: a two-storey perimeter building and four taller towers that are set into this podium. The attention to context can be seen in the height of the perimeter building, which corresponds to the height of the industrial warehouses opposite, and in the height of the towers, which is equal to that of the other towers in the area.
In order to counter the lack of urban atmosphere so typical of the Milanese periphery, DEMO proposed that most of the perimeter building be used for public activities: offices, commercial activities and neighbourhood services. As a result the courtyard, a space that is closed to non-residents in traditional Milanese construction, is open to the general public and home to a nursery school.
The towers are accessed directly from the roof of the perimeter building, a surface that is covered with timber decking which continues on the facade, defining the entrances to the residences. The idea here was to use a material widely accepted by the general public for its ecological credentials and for its ability to transform a part of the building – the roof – that is generally not used in Italy, into a leisure space, almost a roof garden in the tradition of Le Corbusier. Visitors to the roof are offered an urban panorama which, despite its chaotic appearance, is no less interesting than its natural counterpart.
Another strong point of this project is the choice of residential typologies on offer: in three of the towers simplex apartments (the most common typology in Italy), duplexes in one tower and in the perimeter building, which is predominantly non-residential, patio apartments.
January | 2009 | Italy | Luigi Prestinenza Puglisi