The State University of Milan's main campus is centred on Ca’ Granda, an emblematic humanist construction by the Florentine architect and scholar Filarete that was built in the mid-15th century as a hospital. In the 1950s, Liliana Grassi designed the wonderfully balanced main lecture hall, located in a courtyard of the monumental complex, as part of the restoration and rebuilding work required due to bomb damage suffered in World War II. The MDU practice and Giovanna Masciadri have now produced now produced a very sensitive refurbishment that draws out and returns the essential lines and elements of the Grassi design. Naturally, this required both realising what the key aspects were and then creating a design that aimed to recover the features of this example of modern architecture.
This is precisely what MDU set out to do. It was not satisfied with a mere technological upgrade, adding new installations, and the improvement of the acoustics. It sought to return to Liliana Grassi's original, balanced formal design but with a modern reinterpretation that would achieve "transformation" marked by lightness and sensitivity.
Achieving this required the removal of elements that had been added over the years simply to meet new technological demands and a return to what this hall had been designed as. A careful analysis of the original auditorium uncovered the spatial structure and layout adopted by Liliana Grassi, in which the side walls were divided into three horizontal bands and the visual accent was placed on the gallery. The addition of the bronze balustrade and, outside the actual hall, the two flights of steps from the lobby would seem to substantiate these ideas.
Thus, the project picks up this sensitive approach and envisages a "harmonious box" that is inserted into the hall by cladding the walls while following the original three-part design. The use of oak panelling for such cladding helps to create distance from the existing walls and adds a combination of elements. The lowest band is inclined and uses the random placement of different depths of the panelling to produce a dynamic effect. The middle band once again uses the relationships between panels to create a play on solids and voids. Finally, the upper band is also inclined, but in the opposite direction to the lowest band and with a regular geometric layout that is more spaced to confer a sense of material and visual lightness on the crowning part of the wall. The installations and devices can then exploit this gap between the cladding and the wall to allow the original sense to be returned, without losing technology.
The stage is linked to the main body of the hall via reinforced concrete steps clad in wood. This was part of the broader need to ensure the hall could be used for a range of purposes, from conferences and meetings, to shows and concerts. The stage floor is wooden and there is a large wooden table behind which speakers can sit that can be raised onto the stage or lowered into a space below, depending on the type of use required of the auditorium. The stage backdrop embraces the stage and is divided into two horizontal bands. Once again, oak panels are used, with the lower band picking up on the irregular use of size, while the upper band is even. However, this time, the panels can be rotated and there are girder trolleys that allow a different arrangement, depending on the desired acoustics.
The design returns to the original compositional elements of the hall, but adds as well, making the auditorium more multi-purpose and emphasising the elegance of the space through sensitive addition.
Location: Milan, Italy
Client: Università degli Studi di Milano
Architects: MDU Architetti, Giovanna Masciadri
Design Team: Mario Scaglia, Federico Motta, Claudia de Cunto
Works Management: Peppino D'Andrea
Lights: F&M Progetti
Coverings, Stage: barth
A/V Systems: Videoworks
Photography: © Pietro Savorelli
Established in Prato in 2001, MDU currently has three partners: Alessandro Corradini, Cristiano Cosi, and Marcello Marchesini. The firm is involved in architectural design projects on various scales.
In their educational, research, and design activities, the partners focus on interpreting the dynamics of contemporary society, developing ways to improve human life in terms of our qualities, weaknesses, ideas, and the millennia-old cultural differences stemming from our political, religious, social, and economic diversity.
MDU has won numerous prizes and awards, including nine first prizes. The practice’s ongoing discussions and research, both within the firm and with the professionals with whom it works, has seen it taking part in exhibitions and events dedicated to architectural theory.
Its most important projects include a performing arts theatre in Montalto di Castro (Viterbo, Italy), the public library in Greve in Chianti (Florence), a contemporary art gallery dedicated to the works of Giuliano Vangi (Florence), a recreation center in Castelnuovo (Prato), the new headquarters of the Prato Chamber of Commerce, the Italian Trade Centre’s new permanent exhibition center in Quanjiao (Anhui province, China), and Milan University’s main hall, where the Milan Charter was presented as a part of EXPO 2015. Projects currently under construction or at design stage include the Teatro Comunale in Acri (Cosenza, Italy), Lucca’s urban development plan (Italy), building firm CGF Costruzioni’s headquarters, and Prato’s Nuovo Complesso Parrocchiale della Chiesa della Visitazione.