In 2017 we celebrated his ninetieth birthday with our Gregotti Tour through the streets of the district in Milan that owes so much to his passionate vision of urban planning and architecture. To give the people of Milan an idea of the historical significance of the Bicocca Project, the Pirelli Foundation, together with the University of Milano-Bicocca, organised a series of thematic tours of the places that, based on the architect’s projects, have been transformed into symbols of a new way of understanding the urban fabric of the third millennium. This “urban tale” thus wound its way through the Pirelli Headquarters, built around the historic cooling tower, and the former Pirelli Pneumatici industrial buildings numbers 45 and 66, transformed into the U6 and U7 towers of the University, giving an insider’s view of a city undergoing constant change.
Two highly symbolic places – the Headquarters and the University – capture the full meaning of a project, strongly backed by the then-president Leopoldo Pirelli and later by Marco Tronchetti Provera, that over thirty years ago heralded the birth of a new concept of modern urban planning. The Pirelli Headquarters is now the icon of the Bicocca Project: a huge glass and concrete cube that incorporates a tower built in 1950, originally used for cooling the water needed for the vulcanising machines. Just as it was a powerful symbol of twentieth-century industry, the tower has continued to act as the emblem of a new industry, taking us into the third millennium. Measuring fifty metres per side, the glass wall that takes up the entire western facade of the Headquarters acts as a sort of opening onto this place of work, where new and old – or rather, the truly ancient, since it includes the fifteenth-century Bicocca degli Arcimboldi, now the official reception venue of the Pirelli Group – come together in the Bicocca district, which was so totally reshaped by the hand of Gregotti. Just a few metres – the width of Viale Piero e Alberto Pirelli – separate the Pirelli administrative centre from the U6 and U7 buildings, and from the Residenza delle Fontane (U12) of the University of Milano-Bicocca. The buildings are in a classic red-brick colour, which in the architect’s words “intends to recall the industrial origins of the area, giving a sense of continuity with the idea of the university as a place of work, even more than one of preparation”. Joined by flying footbridges and looking out over the great Piazza dell’Ateneo Nuovo, they are themselves at the forefront of the Bicocca Project, which aims to create an innovative cultural network in the northern area of the Metropolitan City of Milan: a university campus at the centre of a wide-ranging project that brings together education, research, culture and business.
Vittorio Gregotti left us yesterday, in a surreal, deserted Milan, so far removed from his ideal of a city to be lived in, practical, with symbols and places of memories brought back to life. But a city that is ready to start up again and rebuild itself, taking inspiration also from the lessons taught by the architect Gregotti.