In the 1980s, the payoff of a much-aired TV commercial was “Milano da bere” (literally, Milan to drink). The more time passed, the more those 30 seconds came to capture the Milan of those years: an effervescent city made prosperous by heavy industry, now given over to the culture of hedonistic satisfaction. Even without Umberto Eco’s semiotic analysis of the situation, it was clear that a profound transformation was underway 40 years ago. Not least because today we can see the results. We have borne the brunt of some of them, and still have the scars to prove it. Other consequences are clearly visible in how the city itself has changed.
A city is first and foremost a place created out of social relations, and any changes to these would redefine the different segments in a continual over-layering of strata that ultimately make up its history. Today’s Milan is no longer hellbent on materialism per se but seeks compatibility, environmental sustainability and ways to adapt to the stress of city life by adopting rules conducive to resilience. As Eco explained, the change in paradigm has led to the creation of new icons to represent them.
An example of this is the district lying just south of the Porta Romana railway yard that gained a new lease of life when two decommissioned industrial sheds, formerly housing a printing business, were converted to make way for the headquarters of Golden Goose, an international fashion firm. It is a metamorphosis that has made intelligent use of the structural opportunities offered by buildings originally designed by civil engineers and now turned into a work of contemporary architecture. It has added value to what in effect is becoming the new pole of avant-garde architecture in Italy. The brief was entrusted to Milan architecture firm
ML Architettura founded by Marco Claudi, who, working together with Golden Goose itself, adopted a careful stepwise approach, first assessing the existing structure and then recomposing in segments.
Although structurally very diverse, the two pre-existing buildings were originally both single story volumes with varying interior heights, in some places reaching as much as 10 m. Located in a district of little architectural note developed in the early
20th century with the industrial boom, the project picks up on the real value of the two former sheds: their monumental volume and huge lights, in addition to interiors with very few central pillars. The new program reflects the morphology of the former industrial containers, maintains their profiles but develops a differentiated centripetal layout for the interiors. The perimeter walls - pillars and infills - of the east-facing volume running along the street have been left intact. In contrast, carefully planned demolition took place of the interior columns and pitched roof, which was replaced by a striking new metal frame that now supports the three new elevations built around a large central glazed patio accessible from all the surrounding work spaces. The new structure is made up of V-shaped pillars that serve as wind-bracing and anti-seismic elements. They are part of the totally exposed metal structural frame set against the original shed walls, which now stand as a backdrop to the new perimeter wall.
ML Architettura’s approach to history is aptly summed up in this juxtaposition of material layers. The exterior vertical layers are opaque and overtly reference the past while on the inside, the walls are completely transparent standing in stark contrast to the unconcealed corrugated steel of the floor slabs of the suspended story rising from the large metal structure and supported by large beams. Thoroughly contemporary, too, is the LED lighting, the lightweight metal canopy that crowns the top of the volume. A black opaque metal outer skin turns the volume into a monolith from which the continuous line of the canopy seems about to detach itself, almost as if it were a flying carpet. The effect is aesthetically elegant, making the building an urban landmark. Under the tapered roof is a very democratic space, a sort of covered urban square also containing the restaurant whose continuous glazed wall opens out onto the inner patio where a reflective pond reflects natural light into the whole building.
The other former industrial shed located inside the plot to the west houses the auditorium. Created according to the specifications of a very interesting patent registered in 1956 by German engineer Wilhelm Silberkuhl, this large column-less space has spans of 20 m. The result is a totally open space. Standing 7 m high, the roof is laid with prefabricated double-curved tiles. Fire-resistant plaster has been applied to all surfaces - window and door frames, gates and all plant and equipment - to give the place a totally neutral feel, and so become the ideal innovative backdrop for a fashion house’s collections. Here too, the outer walls of the old container have been entirely clad in a micro-perforated metal mesh, which as well as its aesthetic function is also highly energy efficient.
Location: Milan, Italy
Landlord: Real Step
Tenant and Interior Concept: Golden Goose
Architect: ML Architettura
Project Architect: Marco Claudi
Main Contractor: A.T.Toptaglio
Structural: Biesse Ingegneria
Design of mechanicals: Studio Termotecnico Associato Mandelli Riccardo ed Emanuele
Design of electricals and special-purpose plant: Elitec Engineering
Construction of mechanicals: Socotis
Construction of electricals: De Franco
Design Project Management and Construction Management: Studio Bossi
Metal Façade System: Steel Pool Cantieri
Curtain Wall: Amitti
Air Conditioning System: Samsung Climate Solutions WindFree Cassette 4 Vie and Cassetta360 by Samsung Electronics Air Conditioner Europe - Italian Branch
Steel Main Structural Frame, Steel Sheeting Staircase, Railing and Walls: Leoni
Text by Luca Maria Francesco Fabris, Politecnico di Milano - BUCEA Expert
Photography by Ftfoto - Andrea e Filippo Tagliabue, courtesy of A.T. Toptaglio
Portrait image (ML Architettura) by Ermanno Funari, courtesy of ML Architettura
Portrait image (Golden Goose) courtesy of Golden Goose