Hannes Peer worked all over the world before settling in the city where his career began. ‘I always had the feeling that Milan was the right place to be for architecture but I also studied in Berlin and worked for Rem Koolhaas in Rotterdam. There’s so much going on in this city for design, from Salone del Mobile to the fashion weeks, it has more museums and galleries per person than anywhere else, so it seemed to be the right choice to move back’.
Palazzo e Torre Rasini
We begin the tour at at Porta Venezia, staring up to the magnificent Palazzo e Torre Rasini. ‘This huge tower with a maison roof was constructed between 1932 and 1935 by architects Gio Ponti and Emilio Lancia. The two contrasting towers were built at the same time, just before Milan’s ‘Golden Era of Architecture’ began. They were ground-breaking at the time, they are 100s of elements of pure modernism in these buildings: No ornaments and very clean lines.’
Corso di Porta Venezia
If you want to show Milan to a foreigner, I think that Corso di Porta Venezia houses one of the most beautiful catalogues of architecture in Italy. Of course you have Rome, with all the antique architecture, but on this street alone you can find buildings from 16th century buildings right up to the present day. As you walk down the street, you’ll see that each façade has a different style, the best one for sure is the Palazzo della società Buonarroti-Carpaccio-Giotto.
Designed by Piero Portaluppi in the late 1920s, the palazzo was a playful homage to Milan’s multifaceted culture and history. Don’t miss the stars and inspirations from astrology and astronomy as you walk under the imposing arch way. One of Hannes’ favourite buildings in Milan, he explains,, ‘the city’s architecture often seems austere and ugly from the outside. But what I find so interesting (maybe more so than the outsides) are the interiors. There’s a saying that ‘Milan has a steel, brutal outside but a golden heart.’ You can really see this if you look through the front door of the building. There’s so much going on with Portaluppi’s work, from his astrological references, to the massive neoclassical columns he put on the front of this building, no one can build like this anymore.’
Walking through Portaluppi’s arch, you find yourself on the magnificent Piazza Duse, a heady mix of neo-renaissance, baroque, rococo, and liberty architecture. ‘You literally have everything right here in this one square, look at the windows, the balconies, they’re so intricate they look almost fake’. While you can’t go into any of the privately owned buildings, this little park in the centre of the piazza is a great place to get a 360° view of some of northern Italy’s best known architecture.
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Palazzo Berri Meregalli
‘To me, this is just a nonsense architecture.’ Located on Via Cappuccini, the imposing corner building at first sight doesn’t seem like much; look closer though and you’ll see multiple of carved cherubs, randomly exposed bricks, and alternating Gothic and Renaissance sculptures peppering the facade. Hannes explains further, ‘just inside the wrought iron door, there’s a sculpture of Adolfo Wildt, the sculptor who created this whole place, he’s pretty much forgotten these days because of his alliance to Mussolini. It’s a real shame about his political ties as they have marred all the good work he did for so many young artists and sculptors. He was a real benefactor, he taught for free.
‘The Palazzo itself is considered Liberty, but it’s more like a neo-Medieval castle than Liberty. There’s so much in just one building. The count who commissioned the creation of this building managed to buy original Renaissance furniture and if he couldn’t find a pair of something he would have the second made so it was identical to the original.’
If there’s one building that could encompass Milan, it’s Palazzo Berri Meregalli, at first glance, it’s not much, but look a little closer and you’ll see it’s something far superior anything else close by. Hannes sees this shift in perception changing in Milan as a city now. ‘People now are waking up to the fact that much of Milan is hidden, people always want to see ‘Hidden London’ or ‘Hidden Paris’ and now they’re asking where can we go and see the hidden sides of Milan, which is great news for architecture in the city.
‘‘The Ear’ by Adolfo Wildt. When you zoom in on his sculptures, you realise they’re more like architecture. Everything is a perfectly shaped form. If you do a close-up on this, you can’t really tell what it is as it’s so intricate.’
This is another masterpiece of Portaluppi. Villa Necchi was commissioned by sisters Nedda and Gigina Necchi and Angelo Campiglio, the husband of Gigina. When the latter two died, Nedda decided the house was too big for her, and gave it to the city of Milan, along with all her Chanel dresses, jewellery and artworks. Hannes explains ‘every floor, every window is different and decorated by someone else. The house has been perfectly preserved as a homage to the 1930s and is one of the most greatest examples of eclecticism in Milan.’ It’s also one of the only houses in Milan to be open to the public in its entirety. There’s also a wonderful bar and restaurant in the garden, next to the swimming pool.
‘As you walk from Villa Necchi, through the centre of the city you really get a sense of Milan’s urbanistic jumps: you have these huge boulevards like Corso Venezia and then you turn down street and you can see Art-Deco or utopian architecture, like that on Via Mozart, then another turn, and you’re in the midst of Medieval Milan, in the ancient heart of the city. One such street is the oft-forgotten Via Cerva, running parallel to San Babila. ‘Every building on this street is 7/8ths of a normal building size. This is probably the best example of ‘old Milan’ the street is very narrow and the houses are all painted different colours, it’s like a brief jump back in time in the midst of the fascist architecture that’s surrounding this street.’ Hannes explains that Via Cerva is also home to one of his favourite trattorias in Milan: Trattoria Da Pino, the garden is wonderful in the summer.
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‘Known as the ‘furniture street’ as all the main brands have their stores here, Via Durini has a totally different kind of beauty to the medieval a structures behind it. You this amazing mix of architecture on this street as it’s mixed with fascism and then neoclassical.’ From its 17th church, which is still in use, to the neo-palladian Palazzo Cusini built in 1928. ‘While it doesn’t look like much from street level, when you look up you’ll see the entire facade is marked by this huge columns, which massive statues and obelisks on the top, each one representing the arts.’
While walking from Via Durini to the final destination on Hannes’ tour, look closely and you’ll get an insight into the various stages of Milan’s architectural history, from the Fascist-inspired architecture on Galleria Strasburgo and the mosaics on the walls of Galleria del Torro, (just off Corso Vittorio Emanuele II), to the modernist buildings on Via Manzoni that practically suffocate the Palazzo Manzoni. Here, Hannes urges visitors to stop and take a look around:
‘Piazza Belgioioso is one of the most special places in Milan. It’s very difficult to find a more eclectic place in the world. You have literally all styles of design combined, from gothic, to modernism. There’s a BBPR building right next to art deco, then you have 17th, 18th and 19th century, modernism, eclecticism. 1565 until the 1960s, so we’re talking about 400 years of architectural history concentrated in one place. If you do a 360° turn here, you can see so much history all at once. The most democratic place for architecture and the perfect place to end a tour of Milan.’
The tour over, the final place to visit is the Chiesa di San Fedele, inside this incredible Baroque church, there is Lucio Fontana sculpture: ‘this is a very Milanese thing to do, mix it all up, put a selection of ancient artworks all together, and then right at the end throw a modernist masterpiece in just to confuse people. It’s something I really love about this city.’
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