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Novecentopiùcento: International Design Competition for the conversion of the second Arengario into a museum building

In 2020, in order to expand the current Museo del Novecento, the “Novecentopiùcento” competition was announced by the Municipality of Milan, aimed at defining the design proposals for an aerial walkway capable of connecting the two arengari located in Piazza del Duomo. AGORÀ participated in the competition with AUFO (Architectural and Urban Forum), collaborating with the working group called Corpo dei Novecento (C.d.N). The group, made up of a large number of designers flanked by figures belonging to various disciplines, set itself the goal of constructively criticizing – through an architectural project – the urban planning choice of the Municipality of Milan.
Despite the ideological premises in total opposition to the directives of the municipal administration, a complete and detailed project was delivered, which could bring out the critical issues contained in the competition. For this reason, the group was aware from the very beginning that the aim of the project was not to win the competition, but rather to stimulate a debate around this kind of urban planning operation.

Below are some extracts from the project report which accompanied the project tables presented to the jury.

“The monumental complex of the Arengario and the Piazza Diaz behind it are the last chapters of a redefinition of the historic heart of Milan, a tortuous arrival point that has crystallized the forma urbis almost definitively. A (re)design that is limited to a single architectural episode, even if of quality, would remain incomplete if it does not deal with a context of such symbolic significance. It suffice to recall how even the height of the “Martini Tower”, an excellent project by the architect Mattioni, is the result of a bargaining between the wishes of the private client and those of the Superintendence, which in the 1950s imposed the lowering of the tower by eleven meters in order to see it in its entirety from the Octagon of the Gallery Vittorio Emanuele II. A winning choice that was able to conclude the prospective device of the North-South axis of the Piazza del Duomo with precise consistency, unlike the East-West axis where the Mengoni’s project was never completed. The Arengario complex, interpreted by the designers (Muzio, Portaluppi, Griffini and Magistretti) as a monumental gate – “propylaea entrance to the modern district of Piazza Diaz” – finds its natural and coherent completion with the backdrop of the Tower.

Novecentopiùcento - C.d.N. - Ipotesi collegamento

C.d.N., Preliminary comparison of different connection hypotheses, Milan, 2021.

This is why every intervention, however architecturally valid, which connects the two buildings with an aerial structure will be an invalidating choice from an urban planning point of view. The skybridge would appear as an inappropriate superfetation capable of canceling the perspective device, disqualifying the view from the center of the Mengonian Octagon. After this radical choice, which immediately arises critically with respect to the suggestions of the Competition (and agrees with the Superintendence’s note), the project was organized accordingly, turning a problem into an architectural opportunity.“

Novecentopiùcento - C.d.N. - Vista notturna

C.d.N., Night view from Piazza Duomo, Milan, 2021.

The report refers to a Superintendence’s note published during the Competition, which distances itself from the directives of the Call, underlining the criticality of an aerial connection between the arengari, suggesting to the participants the study of a hypogean project. Subsequently, the Municipality of Milan announced a postponement of the delivery date of the project, so as to give the participants of the Competition time to adapt their project to the new guidelines.
Beyond the methods lacking in professionalism and respect for the designers, as the Ordine degli Architetti of Milan (Institute that supervises the correctness of professional practice and provides opinions to the public administration) also pointed out, this typically Italian dynamic makes the opportunity for public competitions totally inconclusive, leaving room for appeals and delays.
As a group we had thought the project without foreseeing the aerial bridge from the very beginning, so our goal was achieved, however the bitterness of an experience marked by misunderstandings and inconveniences remains.

Novecentopiùcento - C.d.N. - Sezione prospettica

C.d.N., Sezione prospettica sulla nuova hall distributiva, Milano, 2021.

“The distributive continuity of a single experiential path of the Museum that contemplates the visit of both the previous exhibition and the new wing is ensured by an underground intervention, in the middle between the two existing buildings, reachable by a monumental staircase that, sinking down, reaches a space of distribution that acts as a functional hinge, illuminated by the zenith light thanks to a glass flooring located on the walkway level of the square above. In this way, the perspective device is preserved and at the same time the North-South axis is emphasized, making Via Marconi an authentic monumental entrance to Piazza del Duomo.

Novecentopiùcento - C.d.N. - Vista ingresso

C.d.N., View of the underground entrance, Milan, 2021.

The underground entrance, among other things, is capable of integrating the existing underground walkways that lead to the subway, giving the archaeological remains, previously found, a well-deserved exhibition space, as if they were “found objects”, unexpected gifts, works of art that recount the historical stratification of the city. The feasibility of the underground connection between the two arengari is made possible thanks to the punctual intervention on the existing sewer line, we left the size and the consequent water flow unchanged, through an enlargement of the section in plan and a consequent reduction in height (preceded and followed by suitable compensation tanks).
The current ticket office becomes the lobby dedicated to the temporary exhibition wing at the ground floor, with internal access from the helical ramp or autonomously usable even when the Museum is closed, through the current entrances in via Marconi and Piazzetta Reale.“

Novecentopiùcento - C.d.N. - Schema 1

C.d.N., Functional diagram of the museum wing for temporary exhibitions, Milan, 2021.

Novecentopiùcento - C.d.N. - Schema 2

C.d.N., Functional diagram of the multimedia Broletto as a public exhibition space, Milan, 2021.

“Another strong point of the project is the choice to leave the portico of the second Arengario accessible to citizens, according to the wishes of the original designers, who conceived the building as a “broletto”. Closing it with a window would have excluded this civic space of public use from its natural pedestrian vocation. Therefore, it was decided to suspend under the vault a programmable video installation by artists invited over the years by the Museum, transforming the portico into a shared place of experience of contemporary visual art, in its way part of the Museum experience. “

Novecentopiùcento - C.d.N. - Vista Broletto multimediale

C.d.N., Interior view Multimedia Broletto, Milan, 2021.

“The consequence of this choice was to imagine the new auditorium on the top floor of the building, making it the end point of the Museum’s itinerary, thus benefiting from a priceless view of the square. This allows an enhancement of the existing terrace, suitably brought to the level of the internal floor, both as a panoramic function and as a “safe place” according to fire regulations (a transparent glass parapet integrates the existing one, as well as in the terrace of the long wing). The design of a column of technical spaces, including stairs, lifts and freight elevators with the entrance from Via Dogana, allows the independent use of the auditorium even in the case of a closed Museum.“

Novecentopiùcento - C.d.N. - Schema 3

C.d.N., Schema di funzionamento dell’auditorium (anche ad uso autonomo), Milano, 2021.

Novecentopiùcento - C.d.N. - Vista foyer

C.d.N., View foyer auditorium, Milan, 2021.

“Finally, to facilitate entry to the Museum for people with disabilities, it was decided to restore, with a touch of irreverence, the volume of the Arengo that overlooked the Piazza del Duomo (dismantled after the war), imagining it in glass and transforming it in an elevator that leads from the Piazza to the lower level. From the terrace on the first floor of the East Arengario, a walkway connect to the roof of this glass column, allowing the visitors to reach it to observe the monumental complex from a new point of view.“

Novecentopiùcento - C.d.N. - Progetto originario

Model of the original project with the “Parlera”, Milan, 1939.

In conclusion, apart from the controversies related to the management of the Competition, we would like to thank all the members of the C.d.N. group for having accompanied us in this adventure, constructively evaluating our ideas and design proposals despite our candid and naivety inexperience (very rare); we learned a lot from observing the group. Special thanks to Lorenzo Degli Esposti for yet another act of intellectual generosity and openness towards us.

Novecentopiùcento - C.d.N. - Schema flussi e fasi cantiere

C.d.N., Flows and functions diagram + construction phases, Milan, 2021.

Translated into English by Marco Grattarola.

Cover: C.d.N., External view of the project, Milan, 2021.

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Marco Grattarola AdministratorKeymaster
He graduated in Architecture Sciences at the Polytechnic School of Genoa with a thesis on “Active Architecture”. He did two internships, in an art gallery and in an architecture studio. He currently attends the Master at the Polytechnic of Milan. His interests range from music to drawing, in which he experiments with curiosity and passion.
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