However alluring Italy’s hill towns, picturesque postcards of Medieval and Quattrocento treasures suspended in time, Milan’s multi-century dynamic is a stimulating cultural aesthetic where Medieval asceticism and Beaux-Arts opulence coexist with Midcentury Modern austerity and Post-Modern panache. Inspired rather than confined by the Renaissance spirit, Italy’s wealthiest most progressive city settles for nothing less than the best in the world accented by its inherent Italian charisma that sets it apart from London, Paris, and New York. Having lost as much as 60 percent of its historic buildings during World War II, today’s Milan is a global destination, home to the world’s most renowned furniture fair as well as da Vinci and Valentino, La Scala and Armani.
Evidently, this cosmopolitan mix of chic, class, couture, cuisine, and culture has eluded America’s leading authority on European travel, PBS’s Rick Steves, a self-anointed Baedeker. On his website, Steves pans Milan, declaring “As if to make up for its shaggy parks, blocky fascist architecture, and bombed-out post-WW II feeling, its people are works of art.” Apparently, Milan’s incomparable cultural offerings and architectural gems have eluded Steves. Because the city offers a unique ensemble of contemporary architecture, I am putting together a two-part feature on Italian Modernism: From Art Nouveau to Porta Nuova with one segment focused on Milan’s influential architect-designers Gió Ponti and Piero Portaluppi. I spent one morning with Ponti’s grandson Salvatore Licitra at the Ponti-designed Via Dezza archives; another day, I perused the Portaluppi archives before visiting the architect’s Villa Necchi, Villa Boschi di Stefano, and Casa degli Atellani.
Here are some of my recent moments in Milan.
Spazio Rossana Orlandi Via Matteo Bandoli, 14
Opened more than a decade ago in a converted tie factory, Spazio Rossana Orlandi is still regarded as Milan’s leading showcase for global avant-garde design.
Located near the fashion quad, the Brera District was once known as Milan’s Old Town. Today it is an impeccable maze of smart cafes, design boutiques, and one-of-a-kind objet d’art.
Via della Spiga
Parallel with the more bustling Via Montenapoleone, Via della Spiga is a pedestrian thoroughfare.