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01 Milanese Architecture


A Modernist Guide to Milan

Guide, Design

Words and images Adam ŠtěchDate 08 April 2024

As we gear up next week for Milan Design Week, we asked Adam Štěch, a theorist, journalist, and curator in design, architecture, and the visual arts to pick out some of the Italian design capital’s quintessential buildings from the postwar era, serving both as a guide to the city’s iconic landmarks and a trip through Italian architecture’s golden era. 

Also, if you happen to be in Milan, Štěch is having his exhibition “Elements: Unique Details of 20th Century Architecture and Interior” at Dropcity from 12 to 24 April, featuring nearly 3,000 photos from his collection. 

02 Milanese Architecture

“Postwar Milanese modernism is a pinnacle of democratic modernist design. All these great architects truly believed in good design of not only buildings, but also the whole environment around us. That’s why these buildings were designed to the very last detail.”

Adam Štěch

03 Milanese Architecture

A kaleidoscopic play of colors at the stairwell of Casa Melandri

04 Milanese Architecture

The bold entrance plays with volumes typical of Ponti's style



Gio Ponti and Alberto Rosselli

Casa Melandri, 1954–57

Viale Lunigiana 46

The architect, designer, writer, and thinker Gio Ponti was born in 1891 in Milan—the city that later became the playground for most of his design and architecture adventures. He designed this office building based on the form of a crystal, a motif recurrent in his work. He used diamond-shaped ceramic tiles to cover the entrance area of the building in a repetitive vibrant pattern. While the exterior features silver and gray, the interior showcases Ponti’s playful side, especially in the stairwell, which he transformed into a joyful blend of colors and shapes, creating an optimistic space.

06 Milanese Architecture

Central openings in the building reiterate Ponti's favorite motif—the diamond shape

05 Milanese Architecture

Church of San Francesco d’Assisi al Fopponino has an asymmetrical, hexagonal plan



Gio Ponti, Antonio Fornaroli, and Alberto Rosselli

Chiesa di San Francesco d’Assisi al Fopponino, 1964

Via Paolo Giovio 41

Gio Ponti’s obsession with diamond shapes reaches its pinnacle in his sacred architecture. The Church of San Francesco d’Assisi al Fopponino was designed as a part of a program to build 22 works in celebration of the Second Vatican Council. The façade’s sharp contours are mirrored in the diamond-relief tiles, a hallmark of Ponti’s 1960s architectural work. The large, decorated windows were designed by Christoforo De Amicis in the 1970s.

07 Milanese Architecture

Galeria Strassburgo with the ceiling painted in brick red in Venetian stucco and an elliptical skylight

08 Milanese Architecture

Residential building with irregularly positioned windows of varying sizes



Luigi Caccia Dominioni

Galeria Strassburgo, 1959

Corso San Gottardo 19

One of the most popular architect-designers of 20th-century Italy, Luigi Caccia Dominioni helped to cement the reputation of Italian architecture and contribute to the development of Milan as a modern metropolis. He graduated from Milan Polytechnic in 1936 and founded a practice with Livio and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni. After the war, during which he served in the Italian Army and then fled to Switzerland, he established a studio in Milan, working on furniture and lighting design as well as large apartment complexes and architectural renovations. One of his most spectacular projects is the multipurpose building Galeria Strassburgo with a mosaic floor by Francesco Somaini. 


Residential Building, 1960–62

Piazza Carbonari

The condominium building (above left) on Milan’s Piazza Carbonari represents one of Dominioni’s masterpieces, embodying his characteristic modest style and simple forms. The façade features irregularly positioned windows of varying sizes, lending it an abstract look. Its use of brown ceramic tiles, a signature material of the architect, was a common choice for his residential projects.

10 Milanese Architecture

Church of San Nicolao della Flue is reminiscent of an upturned ship

09 Milanese Architecture

Private apartment by Gardella with a copper-clad fireplace and a grided wooden ceiling



Ignazio Gardella

Private Apartment, 1970s

Ignazio Gardella graduated from Milan Polytechnic in 1928. After first practicing with his father, architect Arnoldo Gardella, he became highly influential in Italy’s reconstruction period. During the 1940s and 1950s, Gardella translated modernist influences into contextual architecture with a strong regional sensibility. Still completely intact today, this apartment in the center of Milan is a little-known Gardella interior gem. The architect designed it as a complex work of total architecture, with a copper-clad rectangular fireplace, a grid-structured wooden ceiling, and Murano glass chandeliers.


Chiesa di San Nicolao della Flue, 1970

Via Dalmazia 11

Ignazio Gardella designed the Church of San Nicolao della Flue as an upturned ship. This eye-catching structure features a striking vaulted ceiling, the space flanked by massive organic concrete pillars that extend like the ribs of a ship’s hull. Outside, the copper-clad roof sits atop a simple rectangular volume.

11 Milanese Architecture

Villa Pestarini, a stunning example of rationalist architecture

12 Milanese Architecture

The glass bricks of the facade give the interiors a luminous, airy lightness



Franco Albini

Villa Pestarini, 1938

Via Mogadiscio 2/4

Franco Albini was just 33 when he created this example of late Italian interwar rationalism in 1938 for the Pestarini family. Initially a simple two-story white rectangular building, a third floor, also designed by Albini, was added a decade later. Albini’s interior design included unique custom-made elements such as a pink glass screen, built-in cabinets, and an impressive free-standing staircase. Today, the house is owned by Modesta Sbaragli Ferretti, who restored it after acquiring it in the 1980s.

13 Milanese Architecture

Palazzo INA a masterpiece of 20th century Italian architectural culture

14 Milanese Architecture

The lobby features an impressive mosaic tile decoration



Piero Bottoni

Palazzo INA, 1953–54

Corso Sempione 33

Piero Bottoni was a significant figure in Italian architecture for nearly half a century. The monumental modernist block of apartments was built as part of Bottoni’s various post-war planning and reconstruction projects. The entrance area features pink and blue mosaics in a subtle abstract motif and is dominated by elementary geometry.

15 Milanese Architecture

The beauty and historical importance of the Chiesa di Nostra Signora della Misericordia lie in the careful use of industrial materials and techniques



Angelo Mangiarotti, Bruno Morassutti, and Aldo Favini

Chiesa di Nostra Signora della Misericordia, 1958

Via Conciliazione 22, Baranzate

Angelo Mangiarotti designed several memorable objects and buildings during the second half of the last century. Like many of his peers in the field of Italian industrial design and modernist architecture, he combined attention to materials with advanced technological solutions and a free, artistic sensibility. Chiesa di Nostra Signora della Misericordia in Baranzate, on the outskirts of Milan, is one of his early masterpieces. It combines pre-stressed concrete structural elements with a steel and glass facade to create a glowing, translucent cube. Restoration works were carried out in 2015 by SBG Architetti.

17 Milanese Architecture

The flamboyant entrance is in stark contrast to the exterior

16 Milanese Architecture

Belotti, Invernizzi, and Boraschi's narrow Brutalist apartment building



Giandomenico Belotti, Sergio Invernizzi, and Achille Boraschi

Apartment Building, 1958–60

Parco Sempione

Giandomenico Belotti, Sergio Invernizzi, and Achille Boraschi created a flamboyant entranceway for their narrow Brutalist apartment building near Milan’s Parco Sempione. Sharp forms, ceramics, glass, steel, and brickwork complement one another to create an innovative cocktail of forms, set off by unique artworks by Giò and Arnaldo Pomodoro and Gianfranco Pardi.

18 Milanese Architecture

Umberto Riva's work reflects Le Corbusier's modernist influence

19 Milanese Architecture

The entryway features a ceiling painted ultramarine blue that transitions to ochre



Umberto Riva

Apartment Building, 1965

Umberto Riva was one of the most active advocates of Le Corbusier’s post-war architecture in Italy. He designed houses, apartment buildings, interiors, furniture, and lamps, such as his ingenious Veronese glass table lamps for Barovier & Toso. His Milan apartment building features a bold entrance highlighted by another of Riva’s lamp designs and houses the architect’s own apartment.

20 Milanese Architecture

Ico Parisi and Silvio Longhi's pavilion for the Triennale di Milano



Ico Parisi and Silvio Longhi

Padiglione per Soggiorno, 1954

Parco Sempione

Born in Palermo, Domenico ‘Ico’ Parisi was soon drawn to the town of Como, where he witnessed the architectonic revolution of the 1930s as it unfolded. In 1947, he married Luisa Aiani, who would be his lifelong personal and creative partner. Together they launched a studio, La Ruota, which soon became a renowned creative center frequented by many of their artistic friends and contemporaries, among them Lucio Fontana, Bruno Munari, Francesco Somaini, Mario Radice, and Fausto Melotti. Ico Parisi and Silvio Longhi built the pavilion above in Parco Sempione in 1954 for the Triennale di Milano. The semicircular structure with zig-zagging concrete roof is typical of Parisi’s architecture of sharp lines and angular forms. Today a library occupies the building, which is also decorated with a glazed relief by Mario Radice.

21 Milanese Architecture

The Cedro house owes its name to the large tree that occupies a corner of the lot

22 Milanese Architecture

An abstract form by Antonia Tomasini placed at the end of the balustrade



Giulio Minoletti

Casa del Cedro, 1951–57 di Porta Nuova 16

The restrained stone-clad facade of Casa del Cedro conceals surprising, brightly colored interiors. Designed by Giulio Minoletti, the apartment building houses richly decorated communal spaces. The light-filled entrance lobby, for example, features a sky-blue wall, rich wood paneling, and an abstract painting on the ceiling created by the artist Antonia Tomasini, who also designed an impressive wooden sculpture integrated into the handrail of the staircase.

Opening image Klaudia Czarlinska
Adam Štěch profile image Julius Filip

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