10 things to know about the Torre Velasca in Milan

Built in the fifties by the BBPR Studio, the Torre Velasca it still reflects today the theoretical thought of Ernesto Nathan Rogers, post-war spokesperson of an alternative idea of ​​modernity in continuity with the past and with pre-existence. The tower, far from the stereotype of the International Style skyscraper, stood out for an escape from conformism and the Modern Movement, sparking a strong debate. Here it is 10 little known facts on this iconic building.

Photo Felipe Tofani via Flickr

  1. Following the bombings of the Second World War, the seventeenth-century square named after the Spanish governor Juan de Velasco, which in the seventeenth century governed the Duchy of Milan, was rebuilt by the BBPR in the context of the construction of the tower. For this reason it was assigned the toponym “Velasca”.
  2. It should have been a steel and glass skyscraper but, to ensure feasibility, the BBPRs turned to Edwards, a New York firm specializing in economic consultancy for high-rise projects. From the appraisal it emerged that the Italian steel industry could not have met such a demand for raw material due to the very high costs. The architects therefore opted for a solution in reinforced concrete with a cladding in prefabricated panels of cement and Veronese marble grit. In addition to a 25% cost reduction, the tower would fit better into the historical fabric.
  3. The reinforced concrete structure was designed by Arturo Danusso and tested at the Experimental Institute for Models and Structures (ISMES) in Bergamo, of which the engineer was the director at the time. The most characteristic technical aspect of the tower consists of the twenty oblique trilobate beams that detach from the façades to support the projecting volume of the last eight floors for residential use. The “V” -shaped anchoring shelves on the seventeenth floor complete the structure by horizontally locking the elements folded into a shelf.
  4. The morphology of the Torre Velasca is full of references to medieval Lombard architecture and in particular to Torre del Filarete of the Sforza Castle. The location in the small square and the consequent vertical thrust, with the higher floors overhanging, deliberately recalls the model of the ancient towers, whose expansion to the upper floors only was due to the limited space near the base. Neo-Gothic references can also be found in the “spire” at the top.
  5. He also expressed himself on the Torre Velasca Reyner Banham, who in “The Architectural Review” accused Italy of having deliberately withdrawn from the Modern Movement. In fact, the British critic was careful not to mention the tower directly, but references to the group it revolved around Casabella Continuity and to its director Ernesto Nathan Rogers, or the promoter of the new historicist ferments, were quite explicit. Rogers wrote an article in response to Banham, explaining how the idea of ​​”an escape from conformity” was substantially at the basis of his research, but this was not enough to contain the criticisms that came with the CIAM of Otterlo in 1959, the eleventh and last international congress of modern architecture on the occasion of which the BBPR presented the Torre Velasca.
  6. A year after its construction, the tower returned to the center of the debate due to the competition that inevitably arose with the Pirelli skyscraper by Gio Ponti and Pier Luigi Nervi: a sharp glass and aluminum blade. This building also represented an opportunity for redemption for Ponti, who abandoned the classicism of the previous production in favor of innovation. The silver curtain wall, the elongated profile connected to the sides and the exceptional reinforced concrete structure of Pirelli, designed once again in collaboration with Arturo Danusso and the ISMES of Bergamo, helped to make the stereotype of the traditional skyscraper fall into oblivion, namely the glazed prism of the second Chicago School. While looking to the past, the Torre Velasca did the same.
  7. In film field Torre Velasca appears in the 1959 film “Il vedovo” by Dino Risi, with Alberto Sordi and Franca Valeri; in “Milano calibro 9” by Fernando Di Leo, a detective film from 1972 with Barbara Bouchet, and in “During the summer”, a 1971 drama by Ermanno Olmi. We also find it in “1992”, a 2015 television series that tells the story of Tangentopoli.
  8. The writer Luciano Bianciardi, in the novel “La vita agra” of 1962, ironically defined the Torre Velasca as a “tower of glass and concrete”. In literary and comics field it is also cited in “Nor a rigo in cronaca” by Gino and Michele and delightfully illustrated by Paolo Bacilieri in “Tramezzino”.
  9. A few years after its inauguration and following the awarding of the annual prize of the IN / ARCH (National Institute of Architecture), the tower became very coveted and housed the home of illustrious personalities such as Gino Bramieri, who lived for a long time in the attic overlooking the Madonnina. All 800 buildings in the tower were technologically advanced, semi-furnished, equipped with underfloor heating and air conditioning. Of the 72 apartments in the projecting volume, now priceless, 6 were born as attic duplexes with a panoramic terrace on the 25th floor.
  10. Affectionately nicknamed “the skyscraper with braces” by the Milanese, the tower continues to be talked about even today, garnering acclaim and criticism. Ben the reporter paints it Beppe Severgnini which, in an article in the Corriere entitled “If the Velasca Tower were in Manhattan”, describes the building as an original and odd “big head of concrete with unlikely tie rods”, the result of that “optimistic and messy” Italy of the economic miracle.
David_Orban_Torre_Velasca_Flickr

Photo David Orban via Flickr

The history of the Torre Velasca in Milan

In 1949, the client company Ri.CE (Reconstruction of Building Compartments), entrusted Studio BBPR with the construction of a “Multi-storey building for mixed commercial and residential use to be set up in an area of ​​public land for reconversion”. The building volume of the sector in question, occupied by the houses destroyed by the Anglo-American bombings of 1943 and intended for a series of new very high-density blocks, was reduced by 12% thanks to the proposal of the BBPR to place the new Piazza Velasca with an adjoining tower.

Only three worked on the project, drawn up between 1952 and 1955: Ernesto Nathan Rogers, Enrico Peressutti and Lodovico Barbiano di Belgiojoso; the group, reunited after the war, had in fact lost one of its historical members, Gian Luigi Banfi, in the extermination camp of Gusen, the same in which Belgiojoso was also deported, but he managed to save himself.

The BBPR inevitably suffered from the conflict and the brutalist influence of the late Le Corbusier; their rationalism changed in the middle of historicist ferment which also involved other Lombard-Piedmontese exponents in the same years, such as Roberto Gabetti, Aimaro Isola, Giuseppe Samonà and Ignazio Gardella. Under the leadership of Rogers, one of the most important Italian architectural theorists of the late twentieth century, the group developed a nostalgic focus on national culture, an attitude that Paolo Portoghesi later it will define “Neo Liberty”.

The tower in reinforced concrete of 26 floors, conceived from the beginning with a strategic and equally characteristic form a “fungus”, with a view to giving the private residences on the last levels more space, it was completed in 1957 8 days in advance of the estimated 300 construction sites. With its dizzying 106 meters in height, 46 more than the Snia Viscosa tower of 1937, it is the most important work of the BBPR and is counted among the most significant of the 1950s as symbol of the post-war rebirth of Milan.

Since 2011 the Torre Velasca has been subject to the constraint of the Superintendence of Fine Arts and in 2019 it was sold by the owner Unipol to the American group Hines. This is an operation worth around 220 million euros, of which 160 for the acquisition of the property and the rest for the works of renovation and modernization; the latter will also concern the surrounding square, whose street furniture, in particular the lampposts in dark amaranth colored metal, was always designed by the BBPR.

Whether it is good or bad – as we all know, non est disputandum – the Torre Velasca remains one of the indisputable icons of Milan, still protagonist in the skyline of an increasingly vertical city.

in opening Photo Mairo Cinquetti / NurPhoto away Getty Images

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