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Chris Stewart

Collective Architecture's Chris Stewart discusses his overlapping roles as architect and member of the Scottish Ecological Design Association in promoting green design to a wider audience.

Fortnightly Blog - Milano, dig that fascist groove thing

March 9th, 2015

Black shirts, white buildings and red eyes coloured our vision of Milano on our annual Strathclyde School of Architecture third year field trip. Stronghold of Benito Mussolini and home to Giuseppe Terragni pioneer of the Italian Modern Movement under the rubric of Rationalism. Not your usual biscuit box Italian city but what could our Fifty eager students unearth and what skeletons could our Five yearning tutors lay to rest.

I cleverly adorned my olive linen suit, sage jumper and stripy pea shirt knowing that the Glasgow Celtic were away to Inter Milan the day of our trip. Greeted at the airport by my fellow tutors dressed in full stormtrooper black, I felt a bit out of place until our Engineer arrived carrying her daughters bunny rabbit bag. Off we flew to discover that match tickets were still in abundance, to be frog marched to the San Siro. Trying to blend in with some lesser Ultra fans, we watched some football but in the main gawped at the enormity of the stadium while holding down our Engineer from hopping out her seat in admiration of Italian diagonal bracing.

Scale, structure and power set the backdrop for the first day as we paraded around Milan. Having sucked Italy of it’s wealth following the 1848 revolution, Milan has become it’s economic powerhouse leaving it’s outskirts littered with redundant industrial zones slowly being replaced with massive second rate edifice dedicated to a corporation or ego. The Porto Nuovo was the latest of these, a foul out of town cocktail of Cesar Pelli, Kohn Peterson Fox, Cino Zucchi and to my dismay Jan Ghel. A long standing fan of Hr. Ghel whose books I constantly reference, his urban space showed some of those ideas but tipped into aversion at those it did not. Urban landscape and agriculture offered some distraction via the tree balconied Bosco Verticale by Stefano Boeri and Agnes Denes’s proposed five acre wheatfield currently being ploughed and planted by local children.

The remainder of the day was spent strutting between Milanese historical gestures; we sashayed past the Pirelli Tower complete with helipad and swanned through the worlds first shopping mall, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II stuffed with bourgeois labels. A quick stride to the brutal Torre Velasca let us question it’s architectural plaudit, surely this can not be Isi Metstein’s favourite building! Grafton Architects‘ Luigi Bocconi Free University likewise seemed overtly imposing and de-humanised by it’s corporate hospitality. Not so the Duomo di Milano, the fifth largest church in the world, it’s spectacular roof forming the perfect take off to something higher. In amongst all this chest puffing, a sneaky wee Terrangi gem, the Casa Comolli Rustica, shone through to leave us wondering. While there was no mistake at how dire were the buildings of Post Modernist grandee Aldo Rossi which we found hard to look in the eye.

The second day we jumped on the bus to heartland Como and roused Dr Jonathon into lecture mode, he grabbed the mike and vented thought. Futurist poets, painters and architects delivered their manifesto; speed, bravado, style brought forth a strong independent Italy; a modern youthful architecture was born. The perfect example was Terrangi’s masterpiece, set in historic Como, the Casa del Fascio arose as a beautiful sublime object, to foster fascism and release stormtroopers to gently placate unbelievers. Como is home to a number of Terrangi’s works and birthplace to Futurist architect Saint’Ellia whose Citta Nuova faithfully inspired Terrangi’s Monument to the Fallen, perched on the lake edge. The similarities between the Italian Rationalists and other twentieth century movements was striking and belief in the new clearly shared irrelevant of political persuasion, until the Nazi book burning and intellectual extermination killed off creativity.

Concerned by but smitten with Terrangi, we climbed back on the bus and headed into Switzerland to take in the ouvre of Mario Botta. Earlier we had stopped by Aldo Rossi’s Gallaratese Housing, influential to Botta and Post Modernism in distilling the building to a series of urban metaphors; the corridor has become the street, the gathering place turned into the plaza, and peoples homes a mere after thought; generosity of useless hard public realm seems forever the architects dream. Our first look at Hr. Botta was more encouraging, the well thought out Morbio Inferiore School built early in his career was suffering a face lift but had much to offer. The remainder of his work was to become progressively flabby as from such very youthful start (he built his first house at 16) Botta aged from a fresh young Barolo into a gut retching Grappa, both of which we sampled in abundance around Lugano. Of particular techno colour yawn material was his yet again over scaled most recent transplant, Campari Towers. The day ended with a visit to Vittorio Gregotti land, a vast Po Mo re-development of the industrial Biocca Milenese quarter, where the one pill use of a solitary architect had made everything twice the size it should be. Gregotti’s fascinating cooling tower stuffed into a vast lego box of offices for yet again tyre-man Pirelli, with yet again standard issue helipad, offered limited consolation. The Po Mo student days of the Five tutors lay in shatters as we stared deep into it’s grave and headed into central Milan for some real Barolo and some seriously gut retching Grappa.

Starchitects filled our last day and never before had I been so happy to see an average Libeskin, a mediocre Hadid and a very long Fuksas. Dr Jonathan continued to hunt down Mussolini inspired fascist power in the form of bricks and mortar, he was not disappointed. Our final rendezvous was at Terragni’s Casa Rustica where we all admired, admittedly more the Five that the Fifty, a delicate piece of housing. Our real final rendezvous was in the Porta Garibaldi District where the Fifty Five took over the ‘Rock and Roll’ bar and disco and danced away the night to ‘Bella Lugosi is Dead’ accompanied by some aging local goths.

The power of the individual is ever evident in Milan, the perfect home to the fashionista and it’s culture of self. Our unnatural love of Terrangi’s buildings helped us understand how the many can be misled by the one. On leaving our hotel we reflected that it overlooked the Piazzale Loreto where the corpses of Benito Mussilini and his lover Petacci were hung upside down from a girder to be battered and spat on by the Milanese until they resembled the salamis in our suitcases.


Thanks to Peter Welsh, Third Year Director at Strathclyde School of Architecture for organising another great field trip. Special thanks to the Five for their company and more importantly the Fifty students who again were a pride to Glasgow and Strathclyde School of Architecture.

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