Dezeen and MINI World Tour: in our final movie with Fabio Novembre in Milan, the architect and designer takes us to a new development in the Porta Nuova district of the city and explains why the project is so unusual in Italy. 

"It is very difficult to build contemporary architecture in Italy"
Unicredit Tower by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects

Porta Nuova is an area in Milan to the north of the city centre named after a nineteenth century gate in the old city walls. In 2009, construction started on the Progetto Porta Nuova redevelopment project, which includes a large park and a number of high rise buildings by prominent architects such as César Pelli and Stefano Boeri.

"It is very difficult to build contemporary architecture in Italy"

"Italian bureaucracy is a very slow elephant," says Novembre as he takes us from the traditional street of Corso Como up to the new Unicredit Tower by César Pelli, which was completed in 2011. "It surprised me very much to see this intervention that was actually finished, was actually completed."

Novembre continues: "If you think that this is a country where to make a subway takes 20 or 30 years. This is not very Italian. It is super finished, very high-quality; I'm proud of it. It's really going to change this part of the city."

"It is very difficult to build contemporary architecture in Italy"
Bosco Verticale by Stefano Boeri Architetti

Novembre then takes us past the Unicredit Tower and points out Stefano Boeri's pair of Boscale Verticale towers situated on the other side of the park, which will support 900 trees on their facades when they are completed later in 2013.

"It is very difficult to build contemporary architecture in Italy"

"Let me tell you, [Porta Nuova] is unusual," Novembre says. "It's unusual because Italy is the country of never ending stories. In Italy you start things, but you never finish them. So this is a very good example of how you can solve the bureaucracies in a magical way and finish the site and actually build it."

"It is very difficult to build contemporary architecture in Italy"
Courtyard beneath Unicredit Tower

"It's also quite unusual because it's difficult for people to talk about contemporary architecture and contemporary design in a country that is so much linked to the past," he continues.

"It is very difficult to build contemporary architecture in Italy"
Corso Como, Milan

"You know, whenever you try to to propose something new people say 'ah, but we have such a tradition.' This tradition often blocks the wheel of change in this country."

"It is very difficult to build contemporary architecture in Italy"
Fabio Novembre

Watch all our video reports from Milan »

The music featured in this movie is a track called Where are Your People? by We Have Band. You can listen to the full track on Dezeen Music Project.

  • Ruby Rubacuori

    Due to the short distance to Switzerland, Milan is experiencing a money drain to its non-EU neighbour. If you want to work or build for an Italian you should find them in St. Moritz.

    Unfortunately every money-bag from the Italian furniture brands is building their retirement mansion in Switzerland. From up there, they can then watch as the ship sinks.

  • Klaus

    It’s absolutely true that bureaucracy here in Italy. It’s incomprehensibly slow, but what I really don’t get is the attitude of thinking that traditional and contemporary are totally detached. It is like one can’t think about tradition without excluding what’s modern and vice versa.

    We have a very heavy cultural heritage, not only in Italy and certainly not only in Europe, and instead of looking at it as a source of inspiration we try to delete it from our mind for the sake of making something new or something that could sit everywhere because completely out of context.

    Culture and tradition are not the problem. The problem is that it’s so much easier to discard them and pretend to design something new than reuse, reinvent or get inspired by what others before us did.

  • sersh

    That new area, close to Corso Como is a disaster, it’s the shame of Milan: it would be better to interview other people instead of Novembre, otherwise people will laugh at Dezeen.

    In one of the best area of the city they decided to build some ugly buildings with a street similar to an highway. The new buildings don’t have a relation with the context and they are ugly: a 20 yo student could design something better.

    So shame on you Novembre. Designing building it’s not just like designing furniture. Will you learn it?

  • I’m just happy that someone found something to do with all those leftover leather neckties…

  • werdeswa

    There’s nothing wrong with tradition. Look at many famous architect’s like Kengo Kuma, Tadao Ando, Geoffrey Baw, and many others. All of them are modern but incorporate with them tradition and cultural context in their design.

    Architects should stop the “modern vs old” paradigm. There’s always something we can learn from old architectural tradition, from the contemplative, seamless transition between interior and exterior found in Japanese architecture, the lightness and complex geometry of Arab architecture, and so on… even the easily detached Mongol tent-house provide a good inspiration on how to design things.

    While many of architects in Asia, Aouth America and Africa have been able to blend modernism and old tradition successfully (some of them even influenced recent architectural projects, for example Japanese organisation of space and Arabesque lattice windows) I’m surprised that Europeans and Americans couldn’t learn a thing from their diverse architectural history. Maybe because the first Modernism movement tried so hard to free itself from classical tradition?

    • Klaus

      I couldn’t agree more with the first part of your comment, but it’s not true that Europeans are not good at blending modernism with old tradition. Perhaps we were better at it in the past. But even today there are a few architects that can use both tradition and innovation.

      Unfortunately it seems that the more they are famous the less they care about tradition, urban tissue, pre-existence, materials and so on. It is true that “the first Modernism movement tried so hard to free itself from classical tradition” but even if there was an innovation in some fields, like materials and construction there was still a dialogue between old and new.

      As for Asia, that was an unhappy comparison. Think about Dubai, Abu Dhabi, the province of Sichuan, Ordos, Shanghai, Nanjing, Beijing just to name a few. What they did there was simply demolish parts of the old cities, building huge highways, shopping malls, skyscrapers and so on with no connection with the past or the context.

      Even here on Dezeen we have seen how, sometimes, to justify some very odd, not to say horrible, buildings what you have to do is painting it with the same hue of the Forbidden City, or “printing” an arabesque motif on the glass and so on and this is just mocking tradition, not blending it with contemporary architecture.

    • Getoverit

      Modernism has yet to come with a sustainable building typology like the Victorian terrace or a Gruenderzeit residential building in Germany.

  • zizi

    The main reason why modern architecture is not very popular in Italy is the very low level of our schools, universities in particular. Cronyism is the only way things work in there, so no wonder if Italian modern architecture is not relevant today.

  • Ruby Rubacuori

    Italy is missing its great family dynasties that always played a role as the patrons for great architecture.

    The Medici, the Church, the great Industrial families. Except the short period of the fascism, the state was never a driving force in architecture. Cronyism though, in a globalised world is very hard to maintain. Back in the Post Modernist days the Italian world was still in order: Olivetti made the best Typewriters, Aldo Rossi and his powerful friends where still in good cash and Alessi was the state of the art tableware.

    Now Alessi needs to commission a Dutch clown to design its pots and pans. Olivetti launches the Olipad 3 and Prada collects foreign star architectures.

    They should have never allowed their children to the study in London.

  • zizi

    State architecture in the post war era was all about corruption as we all know too well. And the general ignorance is a factor as well. Sometimes is so easy, although painful, to describe the decline of a nation.

  • I love that beautiful architecture is still being built!

  • Dan Leno

    “It is very difficult to build…”

    Doubtlessly a good thing which makes Italy interesting. Italian cities are human-centered cities and their architecture is context-based.

    Frankly, I don’t think there are many contemporary architecture firms that are interested in doing anything similar today and even if they believe in the idea in theory, in practice they can never dedicate that amount of time to a single project.

  • Magadan

    When I was in Milan three years ago or so, the side was under construction but I imagined to see here a new – Parisian La Defense-esque – part of Milan. The city disparately needs to keep its role under the top cities in Europe. Whether this plan has worked remains to be proved.

    However, the Bosco Verticale is the skyscraper I’m most interested in, having read lots of articles about the building and its creative master beyond.