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This last move injects New World styling in the city’s traditional architectural portfolio, and the skyscrapers and green spaces deviate from the norm. (Italy’s vast design talent, coupled with a small, dense real estate make it uncommon for U.S. design firms to place stakes there.) All in all, a new standard will be set in the nation, particularly within the Italian design community. The result will be a facelift that has been long overdue for the Milanese to relax in.

Taking a leisurely walk from the hotel and curious like a cat, I meandered through the side streets, hugging the new buildings as I passed them. I understood why the Milanese feel hopeful: the multi-story building facades are shiny-clean futuristic and consist of innovative materials, which they most assuredly had a hand at designing. But these materials do more than just envelop a structure. The facades are symbolic of their design know-how and the potential prosperity available to them if given the opportunity to create without taxing conditions. How and whether this gets translated to policy change is another discussion, but many dreams are riding on CityLife. 

                                       City Oasis

Next, I made a delightful, unexpected discovery and was particularly struck by the
Porta Nuova project next door. Like CityLife, it is a landmark project claiming the city’s first LEED Gold certified structure: the Garibaldi Building designed by Pelli Clark Pelli Architects. It features a subterranean but centrally located grocery store. It is novel, especially with the adjacent xeriscaped garden and picture windows, which provide natural daylight and a view underneath. The building is entirely occupied by UniCredit (one of Italy’s largest banks) and was built by Hines Development. There are western style retail shops, outdoor dining, and a spectacular shallow fountain that is an homage to the illustrious architect, Gae Aulenti (d. 2012) and which alludes to the Jesus phenomenon of ‘walking on water’ when traversed. The views are equally noble; the above grade piazza is reminiscent of Paris’ famous hill – Montmartre – where panoramic photos give way to the city in the background below.

The Porta Nuova project features several noteworthy residences. Unlike those for CityLife, these are smaller in scale, clustered and (in my humble opinion) more charming. One residence in particular follows the street’s curvature; the narrowness of the street and proximity of the buildings transported me to Brussels. It was a wonderful, compelling experience, causing me to want to linger longer! Another cluster of residences,
Le Ville di Porta Nuova,
consist of spacious California-style townhomes with generous terraces and scream of outdoor parties! Although they are nestled right up against each other with expansive picture windows, I am certain these will become the most desired units.

The architecture throughout Porta Nuova is premised on views and transparency, something that Italians will quickly adjust to once they see uninhibited foreigners relaxed and enjoying themselves. It will be very liberating for Italians to rid themselves of the heavy blinds and shutters that control heat and particulates in the old buildings. They will see how important and functional those green spaces are for communing with nature and each other but also for mitigating the dust factor. I am not a Milanese or even Italian, but like them, I eagerly await the day when both projects are finished. And with the Porta Nuova project, I can imagine living (not just visiting) there. Would it not be nice to live like a Milanese for a day?

                                 Until next time!

                                  Violeta Archer 

New City Living 
March 2014

There is a certain buzz in Milan these days, but it is not the imminent spring fashion shows or the Salone del Mobile design fair that are generating excitement. While there is no denying that Milan leads the fashion and furniture realms, surpassing (gasp) the French with daring innovation in both camps, it is actually the urban CityLife project that is causing folks to hum with uplifted anticipation.

So let us set the record straight about this city, because there are so many misperceptions out there... Milan is simply overrated (yes, overrated). Sure, there is La Scala, the Duomo and Piazza Sempione where cultural events take place against a backdrop of rich history. There are the art galleries, cafes, and famous shopping avenues where the paparazzi descend on national celebrities and models. To foreigners, it is surreal, entertaining and even exhilarating. The city with her army of fashionistas appears as a formidable fashion runway through those oversized sunglasses.

We are captivated by the diverse expressions of creativity on the street. The trance begins when boarding the plane:  images of frescos, renaissance architecture and fashion brands cloud the senses along with the scent of espresso. Furthermore, sitting next to the ultra-dressed Italians, hearing them speak in passionate tones spurs the imagination even further. The foreigners visit Milan, however, for brief periods. . .during favorable seasons. . .and are not subject to those dreadful taxes (and we are not talking about the IVA).

What the stranieri do not know is that Milan, irrespective of the financial seat she holds in the nation, is in fact a derelict city in need of a serious facelift. There are many Mussolini-era buildings that have remained stuck in that time period without ever having received an upgrade or tender loving care. It is easy to disregard the graffiti and soot-laden facades with the many pedestrian distractions; the metro is underground causing lost sights between points, and the taxi ride is usually spent fumbling through maps, in preparation for the destination. A real taxi ride or walk should go beyond the touristy areas, through the normal neighborhoods, to see the city’s outdated state.

And then, there is the concrete. It is everywhere, even where we would expect a green park to be! The piazzas are hardscaped with little or no grass. It is no wonder the city becomes a ghost town beginning on Fridays at 4:55 PM. City dwellers flock to the countryside to breathe fresh air and commune with nature on weekends. The cloudy, rainy winters make the grey city even gloomier. To avoid the winter blues, the Milanese escape to the outdoors. During the winter season, this translates to ski trips in the nearby hills. I never would have believed their exodus had I not witnessed it firsthand. I lived in nearby Verona, an hour’s drive away, and experienced the invasion every week. Verona, which wraps around the Adige River and is surrounded by graceful hills, is a remote, quiet respite from the smog and dreariness. The Milanese can be spotted easily by their fast clipped accent.

                     An underground xeriscaped garden

The CityLife project will provide a breath of fresh air (figuratively and literally) to its residents and the neighborhood. The area is pretty much a construction site right now, but one can already see and feel the transformation it will bring. The project sets precedents on multiple levels. The site will be Milan’s largest LEED certified project when completed, featuring visionary designs from a spectacular line up of international star architects