cover photo: taken by me in 2016, at the Belvedere on the 31st floor of the Pirelli Skyscraper. The Pirellone is one of the main works of Gio Ponti and has been restored since 2003.

AI have lived in Milan for 7 years and have not yet seen all the “noteworthy” architecture, per non parlare delle volte che me le sono ritrovate sotto il naso – scoprendo solo a posteriori che erano frutto delle menti dei migliori architetti.

not to mention the times that I have found them under my nose – only discovering after time that they were the brainchild of the best architects.
Forgive the cliché, but Milan is truly a world to discover. It can really be said that – like other European capitals – years of architectural thought, research and experimentation have been confronted on its urban soil. The network of buildings and spaces to be discovered is so dense that little gems often go completely unnoticed.

a preview

did a little personal exercise to understand the attractiveness that Milan had within the contemporary panorama. Here is the list of the main architects of the last century that I found in the construction of this city:

Italo Rota, Vico Magistretti, Luigi Caccia Dominioni, Gio Ponti, Kenzo Tange, Zaha Hadid, Piero Bottoni, Aldo Rossi, OMA – Rem Koolhaas, SANAA, Piero Portaluppi, BBPR, Bob Noorda, Franco Albini, Franca Helg, Giovanni Muzio, Foster & Partners, Angelo Mangiarotti, Mario Botta, Daniel Libeskind, Luigi Figini, Gino Pollini, Gae Aulenti, Ignazio Gardella, David Chipperfield, Arata Isozaki, Cino Zucchi, Grafton Architects, Renzo Piano, Tadao Ando, Archea Associati, Carlo Aymonino, Massimiliano Fuksas, Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, Vittorio Gregotti, Achille Castiglioni, Marco Zanuso, Piuarch, Umberto Riva, Ico Parisi, Michele De Lucchi, Oscar Niemeyer, Pietro Lingeri, Herzog&deMeuron, Giuseppe Terragni…

And I certainly forgot someone. We cannot deny the cultural contribution and the desire to face the international context that characterizes it. I come from Palermo, a beautiful and equally stratified city that has slowed down its renewal and the desire to confront the world since the contemporary age.


Despite the architectural itineraries organized by tourist guides, city events such as Open House or professional courses, at a certain point I felt the need to be accompanied by a volume of text. I was looking for an all-encompassing one, but at the moment I haven’t found one that fully satisfied me. So I share my selection, found by rummaging through libraries and bookstores, each of which adds a piece of history and explanation to this very varied city.

Contemporary Milan

the Biraghi series

At 99% you will find a book that will host Marco Biraghi among the authors. I have found many re-editions, or very similar volumes signed by his hand. I have a preference for “Milano, l’Architettura dal 1945 a oggi” but in general I find his books-catalogs well made and easy to consult. Sometimes he proceeds by selecting architectures for decades, other times for zones – in any case a 1/2 page sheet is dedicated to the selected buildings complete with the main photo, some plan-drawings and an explanatory text. He is certainly one of the most passionate and informed of contemporary Milan.

other texts for the contemporary architecture

I have a minor preference for Sebastiano Brandolini’s book “Milano, Nuova Architettura“. There are two reasons, very connected to each other: I don’t like the introduction of renderings (photorealistic elaborations) that explain a built project, especially when the graphics have aged badly; and in many cases, that project has never even been done or not done that way anymore. It would be more interesting then to make a collection of the non-built in Milan (since I have even seen projects by Gonçalo Byrne!) – but it would be a different volume.
Nevertheless, this text has the merit of dedicating more than two pages to each architecture, deepening it a little more, including more photos and many renders. By giving more space to the singles, obviously, there is a greater selection – but there are goodies that the Biraghi series has not covered.

I find the volume “Milano, Architettura e paesaggio 1920-2016″ very interesting – with drawings by Pietro Ricca and texts by Alessandra Testa and Eleonora. Zorzi. First of all, the selection of architectures begins a little before the volumes mentioned above, that is already from the 1920s rather than after the war. There is also a greater deepening of the context and instead of photos, the architectures are illustrated through pencil sketches. A very pleasant treat. The focus is, rather than on contemporary Milan, on the period between the two wars, with its monumental, modern and fascist architecture. Very useful, and complementary to the volumes above.

Historical Milan

I have seen or found little about the historical architecture of Milan (until the early 1900s). I excluded photographic volumes, monographs, limited periodicals (eg Gothic Milan) and tourist guides that embrace multiple themes and do not focus on architecture. I’ll be back to do a search, but in the meantime I’ll forward you a couple of my results.

Let’s go to the first volume, “Guida di Milano Architettura” edito da Allemandi & C. I find the reconstruction of the city divided by epochs very useful, followed by the cards of the still existing main monuments. Very clear. The twentieth century is hinted at and there is a small selection, but the volume setting is great and at the moment it is the most complete I have found.

Volume nr. 2: “La città nella storia d’Italia: Milano – di Lucio Gambi e Cristina Gozzoli”. AAt the University I literally loved some Laterza books from this series. We leafed, sifted, underlined them. It was almost a shame to have to get away from the episodes of a certain city to have to throw himself headlong into another. They were like novels, very pleasant. So, what better than a Laterza to understand Milan, my new city?
In this case I unfortunately had a little disappointment. He deepens more the cartographic history of Milan, rather than the urbanistic and architectural development of the city. I have to admit that the volume was very professional into finding every iconographic trace that has never appeared, from oil on canvas to military maps: if this interests you, you can’t find anything better. Historical events and personalities are hinted at; urban planning realities are reported only in function of the planimetric representations. I do not doubt that the volume required great knowledge, studies, and research. Personally, however, I feel the need to find another book to understand the urban development of Milan.


So far this is the best selection I can give you to study the urban-architectural history of Milan properly, and I am very sure that there will be other equally valid volumes that I have not had the opportunity to see. Then what to say: am I hyper open to your suggestions and advice!
Thanks for reading this far!

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