Italian Class: Urban Visions

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While I’d planned to focus on Milan, Turin, and Venice’s cultural and architectural evolution, I should mention that this weekend Italians have been distracted from the important business of shopping, soccer, texting, and smoking. O Silvio! Former billionaire prime minister Silvio Berlusconi faces yet another scandalo with the recent mysterious death of Iman Fadil, a model whose forthcoming tell-all was said to expose untold titillations at Silvio’s bunga-bunga parties at his private villa. Other exotic models-turned-authors are also reportedly ready to cash-in on Italy’s latest Satyricon.

In Milan and Turin, the question “What happened to yesterday?” kept me on a daily search to find art among the 1930s artless authoritarian era. Both cities were architecturally decomposed by Rationalism’s politically-inspired attempt to unite Italy’s city-states by demolishing the diversity found in centuries’ old buildings to make room for widened thoroughfares framed by regimented utopian facades and uniform rectilinear arcades. On the Grand Canal, I fixated on “Saving Venice?” During what was probably my 15th stay amid the lagoon’s chandeliers and choppy waters, I was overwhelmed by the influx of exploitative tourism, chain stores and hotels, selfie sticks, and billboards. The Grand Dame’s distinction has deteriorated into the banality of a theme park, its piazzas turned into mall food courts.

Decades ago when the Veneto was still occupied by Veneziani, I wrote a graduate paper on Piazza San Marco’s byzantine ever-changing architectural history, admittedly spending several days drinking Bellinis at Harry’s Bar shuffling postcard views and images. Today, rather than Blame it on the Moon or Acqua Alta, I sense too many buildings have been horribly overdeveloped, much like the collapse of Havana. Behind many of the facades, could structures be disintegrating as much from excessive horizontal and vertical subdivision (Greed) as they are from Acqua Alta?

Meanwhile, Milan’s 58th annual Internazionale Salone del Mobile is set for April 4-19 as exhibitors welcome 400,000 designers from nearly 200 nations to the city’s Rho Fiera fairgrounds. This past week I stopped by influential design curator Rossana Orlandi’s studio to preview a few offerings. If hotels are now overbooked, satellite fairs are scheduled for the pleasures of Moscow in October and Shanghai the following month. Also, probably never too soon to set your calendar for the 2019 Venice Biennale.

La Biennale di Venezia’s 58th art exhibition is titled May You Live In Interesting Times. Curated by Ralph Rugoff and chaired by Paolo Baratta, the pre-opening takes place May 8-10 while the awards and formal opening ceremonies are scheduled for May 11.
For the 2019 Biennale, the following American artists were selected to show: Alex Gvojic, Darren Bader, George Condo, Alex Da Corte, Jimmie Durham, Joi Bittle, Martine Gutierrez, Anthony Hernandez, Arthur Jafa, Cameron Jamie, Kahlil Joseph, Christian Marclay, Avery Singer, Michael E. Smith, Henry Taylor, and Kaari Upson.
Stazione Centrale, Milan. Seconds after snapping this photo, I was surrounded by polizia ordering me to put the camera away. They appeared to be rounding-up “foreign travelers.”
With armed guards in every fashionable Via Monte Napoleone shop, as well as uniformed guards in front of many stores, I snapped this daily scene from afar on Corso Magenta next to my hotel.

Here are some images of 2019 Milan Fashion & Design, 1930-2019 Milan & Turin, and “Saving Venice?”

Milano Moda

L to R.: LVMH. Via Montenapoleone, 2.; Via Napoleone, 2.
Montenapoleone, 2, courtyard. Palazzo Taverna, 1835. “King Georgio” Armani & LVMH “Saint Bernard” Arnault.

Palazzo Versace. Via Gesu.
Gucci – Gucci.

Rossana Orlandi
Via Matteo Bandello, 14/16

Along the far wall, ANOTHERVIEW, a virtual window to an unexpected landscape, “between interior design and video art.” Installed with ANOTHERVIEW app accessible from smartphone.
Objet d’art.
G + G. Giuliano de Medici.
Piet Hein Eek. Wired Buste of Electra Cables.
The Grand Salon.
The Grand Salon.
In the garden, an environmental artwork.
Ufficio Communale, 1925. Renzo Geria, architect. This Via Larga building is one of the few buildings remaining before the Fascist Party approved the Albertini Plan in 1930 calling for Rationalist style (“celebratory neoclassicism”) buildings to unify Milan’s architectural fabric.
Stazione Centrale, 1930. Architect Ulisse Stacchini modeled Milan’s station after Washington’s Union Station.
Stazione Centrale, 1930. Driveways were engineered beneath the station.
Stazione Centrale, 1930. Mosaic. One of the last Deco-inspired mosaics before artists utilized Rationalism’s flat linear style.
La Triennale di Milano. Parco Sempione. Giovanni Muzio architect, 1931.
Teatro Lirico, 1894. Via Larga, 15-19. Mosaic art credited to artist Roberto Aloi (1897-1981). Originally, designed by architect Guiseppe Piermarini shortly before his design for Teatro La Scala, the Teatro Lirico was destroyed and rebuilt across the Via Larga where it underwent numerous renovations. As Milan’s first opera house, the Lirico has been under restoration for the past ten years, expected to reopen in 2020, maybe.
Teatro Cannobiana, 1779. Via Larga, 15-19. Credited to artist Roberto Aloi (1897-1981). The Teatro Lirica was first known as the Cannobiana.
Teatro Cannobiana. Mosaic, detail.
Teatro Nuovo, bas-reliefs. Palazzo del Toro, 1935-1939. Piazza San Babila, 3. Emilio Lancia, architect.
Palazzo del Toro, 1935-1939. Piazza San Babila, 3. Emilio Lancia, architect. T. I. Negri, artist. Mosaic by Salviati.
Mosaic, detail. Palazzo del Toro, 1935-1939. Piazza San Babila, 3. Emilio Lancia, architect.
Palazzo del Toro, 1935-1939. Piazza San Babila, 3. Emilio Lancia, architect. T. I. Negri, artist. Mosaic by Salviati.
Palazzo dell Informazione. 1938. Via Cavour, 3. Giovanni Muzio, architect, commissioned by Benito Mussolini. Il Popolo d’Italia was the official Fascist newspaper. The exterior murals were by Mario Sironi. There is no public access to Sironi’s fourth-floor murals.
Palazzo dell Informazione. 1938. Via Cavour, 3. Mario Sironi, artist. Facade mural.
Palazzo dell Informazione. 1938. Via Cavour, 3. Mario Sironi, artist. Fourth- floor Mural, detail.
Grand Hotel Plaza, 1930s. Piazza Armando Diaz, 3.
Milan’s streets spiraling from the Duomo were unified into rectilinear blocks.
Banca Popolare di Milano. Piazza Fillipo Meda. Giovanni Muzio, architect.
Palazzo Casino, Lungomare Marconi. Located on Venice’s Lido and built in eight months to facilitate the Venice Biennale, the Casino was designed by engineer Eugenio Miozzi.

Post-war Milan

In June 1940, Italy joined the Axis forces in the war. Two years later, allied bombing began in Milan and Turin, resulting in the destruction of more than 20% of the buildings. While factories and infrastructure were targeted, collateral damage included many prominent cultural buildings. Milan’s new Master Plan took effect in 1953.

Torre Velasca, 1958. Piazza Velasca, 3-5.

Torre Velasca, 1958. Piazza Velasca, 3-5.
Terraza Martini. Piazza Armando Diaz. Tomaso Buzzi, architect. 1958. In the foreground, a sculpture dedicated to the carabinieri.
Torre Pirelli. Gio Ponti, architect. Designed in 1950, Ponti’s landmark building was completed in 1960.
Torre Pirelli. Gio Ponti, architect. Abrupt juxtapositions are part of the Milan landscape.
Palazzo Montedoria. Viale Andrea Doria, Milano. Gio Ponti, architect.
Piazza Mizssori, Milan Modernism and Rationalism.


Before the intrusion of Rationalist architecture during the 1930s, Turin, Italy’s first capital, had an enriched stylistic history, fostered by Italy’s royal House of Savoy.

Museum of Risorgimento, Via Accademia delle Scienze. Turin retains elaborated architectural follies.
Cortile. Via Carlo Alberto, Turin.
I indulged several days at the 5-star Grand Hotel Sitea on Via Carlo Alberto and its Michelin-starred Ristorante Carignano. Simply Sensational!
Opened in 1913 as the Cinematographo Reale, the Lux was remodeled in 1934.
In 1902 Turin hosted the first exhibition of international decorative art that today makes for an extraordinary collection of Art Nouveau-Liberty style buildings.
Turin’s Liberty Style.

Marcello Piacentini & Via Roma, Turin

Architect Marcello Piacentini is pictured above pointing out a detail to his patron, Benito Mussolini. Il Duce’s choice architect in Rome and Milan, Piacentini’s invasive austere Rationalist buildings and structures modified existing arched arcades as well as paved them with polychrome Italian marble.
Piazza Comitato di Liberazione Nationale (CLN). Marcello Piacintini, architect.
Via Roma, Turin. Marcello Piacentini, architect-planner. First called Via Nuova, Via Roma’s severity contrasts with Turin’s iconic miles of arched galleries and arcades, making for Europe’s largest pedestrian-covered areas.
The piazza’s two sculptures symbolize the city’s two rivers, the Po and the Dora.

Via Roma. Arched arcades were demolished and reconstructed as angular rectilinear openings, neutering history.
Via Roma. Rationalism was intended to foster a national identity in public places rather than have streets lined with disparate historical architectural styles whether Medieval, Venetian Gothic, Renaissance, or Baroque.
Turin XXI. Intesa Sanpaola Bank, Corso Vittorio Emanuelle II. Renzo Piano, architect.

Milano XXI

Milan’s Porta Nuova and Tre Torri districts have become showcases for the world’s notable starchitects, including Daniel Libeskind, Zaha Hadid, and Arata Isozaki. In the fall, the first Italian Apple Store opened in Piazza Liberty, designed by the acclaimed Foster + Partners firm that recently garnered notice for its Norton Museum of Art additions and renovations. The rectangular glass cube entrance is surrounded by a fountain with vertical jets within 25-foot glass walls, providing the virtual experience of walking into a fountain without getting wet.

Apple Store Liberty.
Below the fountain, an Amphitheater, described as both a theater and a sculpture, with steps paved with Beola Grigia a Lombardy-sourced stone.
Apple Store Liberty.
Apple Store Liberty.

Saving Venice?

Several Grand Canal properties are undergoing major restorations and/or being structurally modified for intensified uses.
The escalation of intense building/redevelopment in Venice could compound/accelerate the city’s deterioration.
Along the Grand Canal … another hotel? foundation?
Impressive facades often create an illusion of grandeur …
Former multi-story buildings occupied by one family now have 6 or 8 or 12 buzzers at the front door. Building repairs are constant.

Tiepolo, Canaletto, Guardi, and …
Riva degli Schiavoni, Chiesa della Pieta. A Stone Island Fresco in Nuova Venezia?
Greenhouse Cafe “Serra Margharita.” iPhonics Venezia.
The once Grand Canal.
Venice, 2019. “May You Live in Interesting Times.”

Photography by Augustus Mayhew.

Augustus Mayhew is the author of Palm Beach-A Greater Grandeur

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