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The genius loci of Milan in its companies and universities, and the perfect example of the Pirelli Tower’s 60th anniversary

The genius loci of Milan is to be found in its work, factories, construction sites, places of culture, schools and universities. This is a city that studies, creates and engages. And it is a “city that rises” in a frenetic and restless way, as Umberto Bocconi depicted at the beginning of the twentieth century. Gio Ponti explained this genius loci well when he said “Art has fallen in love with industry” and following this line of reason we can see how in essence, industry is culture. This sentence, exemplary and essential, is the title of a work on Gio Ponti published in 2009 by Rizzoli (edited by Ugo La Pietra), to mark the thirty years anniversary of the death of one of the greatest European architects of the twentieth century, and the relationship between projects and products, ideas and materials, designs and the realities of life and work. And it clearly traces the path on which Milan continues to grow, balanced between history and the contemporary.

A path that can be seen today from three converging points of view, all influenced, in one way or another, by the hand of Gio Ponti. The first is the Pirelli Tower, which he designed with Pier Luigi Nervi, and about which an exhibition opens tomorrow to commemorate its sixtieth anniversary. The second is the new Milan Polytechnic Campus, designed by Renzo Piano and opened on 22 June, continuing the renovation of Gio Ponti’s two historic buildings, the Nave and the Trifoglio. The third is the Assolombarda Annual Meeting, scheduled for 1 July, to discuss “regeneration”, the recovery of the economy and of society, in an Italian and European Milan, following the difficult and dramatic period of the pandemic and the recession. Gio Ponti’s Assolombarda building, in via Pantano, faces another of Milanese landmark, the Torre Velasca, where an ambitious renovation, redevelopment and relaunch project is underway. And the Annual Meeting is scheduled to be held in the former industrial area of the Falck Steelworks in Sesto San Giovanni, now the heart of an ambitious architectural and urban project, funded by Forster and Partners, with an investment of €4 billion. Architecture and manufacturing. Concrete ideas and projects. Economy and beauty. Indeed, one might simply say “Art has fallen in love with industry”.

Let’s take a closer look at this. Starting with the Pirelli Tower. It was opened in April 1960 and Dino Buzzati, leading Corriere della Sera writer, in his “Racconti del Grattacielo” (Short tales of the Tower) immediately wrote “The Pirelli tower in Milan, apart from its indisputable beauty, or perhaps precisely for this reason, has great character”.

The current exhibition, curated by the Pirelli Foundation and architect Alessandro Colombo, can be found on the 26th floor of the Pirellone, which since the 1970s has been the seat of the Lombardy Region and is now that of its Regional Council, and illustrates history and current events through images, technical drawings and testimonies. Piero Bassetti, the Region’s first president, had this to say “The Pirelli Tower is something dear and essential to Milan, because it was built by the private sector and then consensually became part of the democratic development of the country at a time of transformation of Italian society and political organisation”. And Gianfelice Rocca, president of Humanitas and former president of Assolombarda, speaks of innovation when he says “Milan must invest in sectors that look towards the future. I believe that the challenge for us all is to ensure that in Milan, also due to its cultural tradition, the digital revolution does not transform us all into virtual beings, but is instead put to the service of a real technological Humanism. And that means making the most of this revolution by bringing services to citizens, by encouraging human contact and communication, by making music, theatre and other cultural activities more accessible and widespread. By making sure that all this takes place in a form that maintains the same spirit that brought the Pirelli Tower to life. Keep your head looking upwards, but your feet firmly in society”.

This combination of memory and the future can also be found in the words of Marco Tronchetti Provera, CEO of Pirelli “In the sixties, the Tower quickly became the symbol of the economic miracle, in an Italy that wanted to start again and to do so found an extraordinary energy, so much so that in only a few years, it became one of the great industrial world powers. This was the energy of the business world, together with that of politics and trade unions, that came together in a great unitary development project, one for a better quality of life ”.

The Pirelli Tower is a significant statement of this. The desire to revive a large company, which has strong roots in Milan, while at the same time being distinctly international, a capability to fuse original culture and productivity, the creativity of important architects such as Gio Ponti and of engineers with globally recognised expertise such as Pier Luigi Nervi, the dynamism of a metropolis that understands and wants to look to Europe. Even today “The Tower is still a landmark for Milan and Italy“. Because, Tronchetti insists, “Milan as a metropolis, like the other great cities of the world, thrives on change, attraction and innovation. It grows in the heart of the most intense dynamics of history, often ahead of its time. It attracts economic, cultural and social resources. It welcomes people looking for a better future. And it stimulates creativity and resourcefulness, faces crises and each time finds the strength to recover, because giving up is not part of its DNA as an open community. In short, it is a metropolis on the move”.

The new Polytechnic Campus, led by a forward-looking Rector, Ferruccio Resta, confirms this. “It is a space open to light”, says Renzo Piano, integrating teaching, research laboratories and green areas. A “stitching together” of the historic late nineteenth-century headquarters in Piazza Leonardo da Vinci, the buildings designed by Ponti and an area of ​​Città Studi that had almost been forgotten but now restored and relaunched. A real “ideas factory“. A change that is of its time. As the President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella noted, in his inauguration speech “The new Polytechnic Campus highlights how we can look towards the future in harmony with the period that our country is going through now. This is not a return to pre-pandemic conditions, but a new beginning on new and different terms”.

The themes of the Assolombarda Annual Meeting, led by Alessandro Spada, follow this path of renewal and relaunch, and are significantly in line with the ideas of the Head of State.

A good example of this is the “Milano Sesto” project (which attracted €4 billion in international investment), based in the area of ​​the former Falck steelworks, in the industrial north of Milan, creating services and housing, businesses and innovation spaces and a “City of Health and Research”. And in all Assolombarda territories (7 thousand companies, across Milan, Monza and Brianza, Lodi and Pavia), in an economy that is worth 13% of Italian GDP and the same share of all national exports, a relaunch project is already underway focused on innovation and work. This is the Great Milan, with its ancient industrial vocation reborn, relaunching itself on the basis of advanced models of social inclusion and environmental sustainability, to become a new urban destination where you can live, work, study and build on the work of the territory. Regeneration, in fact.

These are the same values ​​of the EU Recovery Plan. And of the strategic and operational indications of the RRP (Recovery and Resilience Plan) developed by the government chaired by Mario Draghi, whom Assolombarda admires and supports. These are the themes – innovation, work, competitiveness, solidarity – which move the experience of Milanese entrepreneurs. Strengthened by their “polytechnic culture” of science, technology, research, quality production and a sense of beauty. Let’s return to the memory of Gio Ponti, to the art that has fallen in love with industry. A love reciprocated.