/a changing milan

An Atlas of the transformations of the city and its Province

In 1973 an exhibition was held entitled “Per quale Milano” (For which Milan). In the accompanying catalogue's introduction, penned by prof. Vercelloni, its stated purpose was: "to be well-versed in the city's history in order to change its present and knowledgeably effect its future." The Plan’s presentation, underwritten by the then Board of Architectural registration that advocated the initiative, ended with this wish: “dialogue with the citizens is perhaps a way that will allow the combined forces of schools, technical expertise and the various professions to regain their guiding role as motivators and leaders. This, their rightful duty, has been relegated to a marginal position over the preceding decades in regards to the life of Milan and its Province, and to the basic choices governing their development and growth.”

Today, although many years have passed, the question is as relevant as ever. It can now be viewed, however, from a distinctly different perspective. Indeed, given the constant presence of numerous construction sites throughout the city and its Province, particularly from ’95 to the present, we have been witnessing a radical transformation of the territory that is Milan and its Province. Regarding this transformation and the underlying choices and decisions that have governed it — which in turn stemmed from the form of consultation the administration chose to adopt — it seems to us that there has been a markedly inadequate level of communication. Furthermore and above all, there seems to be a lack of any overarching vision, one that is not merely the sum of its parts but rather seeks to define the very structure of the city; an overall picture whose boundaries escape even us, professionals who should be among the principle players called upon to assist in shaping its identity. In the programme drafted for the website’s new role, the editorial staff has sought over these two years of work to envision which means might, if not actually lead to an understanding, at least be able to acquaint the public with the major transformations taking place by activating various means of investigation, some of which have already been active for some time.

This section was conceived as a sort of atlas documenting the changes taking place in the city and its Province. By surveying a range of projects from ’95 til today and presenting them at various scales, the goal has been to build up a physical map of the city and its Province that outlines the status of these transformations and thereby places them in the wider, more comprehensive context of the territory as a whole. In short, it attempts to show the overall network in relation to the individual nodes, providing a comparative means for determining how they relate to each other, which in turn sheds light on what is happening in order to analyze the different experiences and thus suggest possible new ways of looking at the transformational phenomena underway. In short, an instrument of knowledge, useful if only for achieving a heightened level of critical awareness.

In one of his writings, Giancarlo De Carlo describes the first “Observatory of the City”, organised by Patrick Geddes in Edinburgh around 1920. From a small tower placed on top of the Museum building, it was possible to observe how the city was evolving through a kind of periscope that projected images on the ground like a kaleidoscope. This simultaneous observation, cross-referenced with historical records, allowed the viewer to imagine how the city was evolving. Today, a dynamic network — the internet — provides those who process its contents with a way of continuously updating data. This means that in addition to always being able to add new projects, their progress can be monitored constantly until completion. Furthermore, users are provided with up-to-date resource material for research and thus may utilise its contents to draw cross-referential comparisons offering an overall picture phenomena as it evolves from multiple points of view. In this way, it differs fundamentally from traditional publications.

Our intention is to put all the projects that, since ’95 — a cardinal date in the expansive transformations involving vast areas that corresponded to large-scale operations such as the Pirelli-Bicocca area, the first experience, in size and theme — have opened the post-industrial urban season. Although primary attention has been focused on large-scale initiatives, we do not believe that size necessarily corresponds to importance in terms of the transformations brought about on the surrounding context. Often minimal, but sensitive, measures can revolutionise both the perception and the life of the city. For this reason, we are open to all suggestions that users benefitting from this tool may wish to make.

The second aspect of the rationale underlying this project are its sources. Based on the institutional role the Order represents, the collection of information will take place favouring direct contact with architects and designers, the virtual spokespersons of our institution. However, presenting projects that are often subdivided into many parts and shared among various designers, it is natural to involve those directly involved, to introduce strategic programmes affiliated with public administrations that underlie the various projects that are subsequently illustrated by the designers themselves. Similarly it is necessary involve the government that, through Deeds and technical cooperation, provide us with the data about these activities in terms of quantity and their physical nature. The topics, as well as their mapping, are naturally of interest to several institutions and representational bodies — from our various professions or from the field of research — with whom we have dealt in the development of this project. With them, we hope to continue the dialogue and comparison of data in order to build a tool that can be referenced as well as be of some use to everyone.

Francesco de Agostini

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