Green spaces that aren’t ornamental but an integral part of the project. Indoor and outdoor spaces that overlap and blur boundaries. A city within a city. West Gate, part of MIND – Milano Innovation District, has been officially unveiled. Following a reclamation project, the site, to the west of an area previously used for 2015’s Expo, is about to see the first construction sites swing into action. Located in an area that straddles the outskirts of the Municipalities of Milan and Rho, the project is essentially about creating a neighborhood based on a new model of social relationships where people can live and work without needing a car. This traffic-free neighborhood will be like a park, where your home, your office, and the services you need are all close by – essentially, the opposite of a business park with nothing but offices.
The project, the work of MCA – Mario Cucinella Architects in conjunction with a working group comprising Land, Systematica, and Arup, on behalf of Lendlease, is now set to go, with the planning permissions issued. Excavations will begin shortly, with the first 37 acres (150,000 m2) expected to be completed by 2024. But this is only half the total area of the 74-acre West Gate development, which will include five lots with residential buildings, hotels, offices, and retail spaces, funded by Canadian investment board CPPIB.
The entire masterplan is based on an interpretation and architectural definition of the concept of common ground – that is, common ground on which to walk, cycle, stop, chat, and experience a connection with nature. In the majority of cases, the native natural and rural environments aren’t treated as ornamental or as a backdrop to something else, but are an integral part of the project.
“This isn’t just a fifteen-minute city,” says Mario Cucinella. “It’s also a ten-meter-high city – that is, the measurement of perceived space, the height of a mature tree, what our body perceives from up close. This first ten meters is also a measurement of the shared public spaces, the intersection of nature with buildings. It’s the space for meeting and exchange in a new living city. And not just digital but on the level of human relationships. This ten-meter space ties all the buildings together, passing through them, and makes MIND homogeneous and continuous.”
Nature was studied alongside the built environment in terms of its relationship with it and its ability to modify it, in the belief that this can produce a new appreciation of outdoor living and time spent outdoors with other people. But it can also give rise to a deeper sense of belonging to place. This was the perspective taken by Mara Servetto, from Migliore+Servetto, in her work with the street furniture: “Our goal was to create a multilayered identity for the place and then encourage an awareness of it. Designing the various locations therefore involved understanding and anticipating how people will use them and how long they’ll spend in them. This required an ability to think in the long term to design today something that will last far into the future, responding to the social, technological, and sustainability needs of tomorrow. With this in mind, we thought in terms of an urban hiking trail that doesn’t simply connect points A and B, but, as it makes its way past islands, wayfinding signage, and suggested routes, triggers curiosity to discover all the other paths and all the out-of-the-way places.”
The Migliore+Servetto studio has designed a series of installations with a strong environmental emphasis and narrative content that will contribute to building the identity of the site in its various construction phases and final configuration. The first to be unveiled was MIND Flow, almost 1.24 miles (2 km) of sidewalk art. With 161 thousand square feet (15,000 m2) of environmental and wayfinding graphics, it leads visitors from the subway exit to the Tree of Life. And MIND Flow will continue to evolve to become a kind of interactive urban hiking trail that will communicate with visitors and local people, providing information about where they are and the location of cultural attractions, all of which will contribute to building the identity of the place, while encouraging exploration and curiosity.
Analyzing and forecasting people’s movements in the new district was a cornerstone of the design. Or, in the words of Mario Cucinella, in giving a rhythm and vigor to the pre-existing regularity:
“MIND will be a contemporary city created on the site of the temporary city of Expo, the remaining parts of which have been absorbed into this new urban environment. It’s a city laid out like a music staff, with a new rhythm of light and heavy lines that represent the axes of its structure. It’s the structure of the decumanus and its perpendicular rhythms that create the sequence of spaces and the position of the buildings.”
“With West Gate, Lendlease is bringing a new vision and a superior urban environment to the community,” says Simone Santi, Lendlease MIND Development Director. “A place where community is central, thereby encouraging the exchange of knowledge and understanding.” It’s a place for multiple generations, where children, young people, and adults can live together and grow. And it’s a city to be experienced at eye level.
Entering from the west, the first building you encounter will be the Innovation Hub, designed by architects Paolo Brescia and Tommaso Principi of OBR, which will bring together multiple functions. This iconic, integrated structure was designed on the basis of human and architectural relationships. In the words of Paolo Brescia, it’s a project that “responds to the needs and values of many of the stakeholders, while encompassing innovation and technology. A hybrid, connective, and social place, in which innovation doesn’t necessarily mean digitization – although that’s a component of it – but the rekindling of relationships and collaboration among people as the true driving force behind innovation and new ideas.”
MoLo, an acronym for Mobility and Logistics Hub, will be a mixed-use space with 32 thousand square feet (3000 m2) of retail spaces, alongside workshops, offices, and a multi-story car park with 1500 public and private parking spaces. Designed with an emphasis on sustainable mobility in the new district by architect Andrea Nonni and the MAD, Open Project, and Progeca studios, MoLo will be a point of arrival and departure, where you can park your car and go and check out what’s going on. Situated at the end of the decumanus, it will be a gateway for those arriving from Rho and other main routes, but also a focal point for the local area. Besides the car park, it will house offices, workshops, a shopping center, and an energy center – a vital component of the strategy of the entire West Gate development. Different functions will be indicated by distinctive façades, ranging from very linear designs to decomposed structures punctuated by splashes of green. With the district located on the border between two municipalities, there was an emphasis on it being a place of connection rather than separation. This led to the construction of MoLo’s public interchange tunnel. Crowning the tunnel will be an architectural element that symbolizes the building: a metal staircase that rises from the ground, almost framing the tunnel, to the top floor.
MIND is intended to meld two driving forces: on the one hand, the crosspollination of the Municipalities of Milan and Rho, and, on the other, a strong identity and a marked sense of belonging. This concept informed the structural and chromatic features of the residential buildings, designed by Peluffo & Partners. While harking back to the work of the masters of Como abstractionism and the most significant Milanese residential developments of the 1950s, the 400 apartments are designed expressly to meet the needs of today. Combining areas with different functions, common spaces, meeting places, and green areas, the project will promote a new way to experience the home as an increasingly hybrid place.
The Zenith and Horizon office buildings, these “different twins,” were jointly designed by Piuarch and UK studio Waugh Thistleton Architects, which specializes in the design of tall timber buildings. With a combined floor area of 538 thousand square feet (50,000 m2), they will be another symbol of innovation and sustainability, beginning with the choice of wood as their main construction material. “Different twins” was the description Francesco Fresa from Piuarch gave the buildings, referring to their different heights and the prevalence, on the one hand, of vertical façade elements, and, on the other, horizontal ones. At 184 feet (56 m) high and with 13 above-ground floors, Zenith will be one of the tallest timber buildings in Europe. The concept of common ground will be evident here, too, for example on the main floor of Zenith, which will host a range of functions and be open to people who don’t work in the building. A spatial continuity will be created between the exterior and interior, between the public and private, making the building an initiator of encounters and relationships.
A 30 x 30 foot (9x9 m) wooden cube prototype of the office space has been constructed, an indispensable tool for analyzing assembly, disassembly, and safety levels.
Besides the announcement of completion dates, the presentation of West Gate was also a chance to visit the part of the district that’s already active, that is, the reception area of MIND Village, with its sculptural façades and so-called “two sticks” design. This refers to the symbolic bar code that appears on the façades of the two parallel office buildings, used by, among other firms, AstraZeneca. Besides their texture, the façades are distinguished by their wooden and transparent sections on the two lower levels, with terraces creating a visual connection between the two. The lower floor hosts most of the social and community activities, its rooms opening directly onto a strip of garden, equipped and designed as a natural extension of the interior so that people can work outdoors or get together on breaks.
Also at the launch to talk about the effects of urban regeneration on the area were Giuseppe Amitrano of DILS, Alessandro Mazzanti of CBRE, and Viviana Musazzi of Lendlease. The event closed with addresses by Councilor for Urban Regeneration of the Municipality of Milan, Giancarlo Tancredi, and Councilor for Urban Planning and Building of the Municipality of Rho, Edoardo Mariani.
Location: Milano, Italy
Masterplan: MCA-Mario Cucinella Architects, Land, Systematica e Arup
Architects: OBR (Innovation Hub); Andrea Nonni, MAD architects, Open Project and Progeca (MoLo); Peluffo & Partners architettura (edifice residenziali); Piuarch and Waugh Thistleton Architects (Zenith and Horizon)
Urban art direction: Migliore+Servetto
Please refer to the individual images in the gallery to look through the photo credits