In the 1956 issue of Urbanistica (Urban Planning), n. 18-19, dedicated entirely to the Master Plan of Milan, the detailed plan of south Cimiano is described as, “the second neighbourhood being built along Palmanova boulevard consisting of small residential areas [...] connected by large, public green spaces. Particularly important are the neighbourhood’s Centre and school complex.” The project in question is the Don Calabria Centre, designed by Carlo De Carli and built in Cimiano between 1952 and 1965 on the edge of Lambro Park. A study of the ideas and programmes that lead up to its inception — before the appearance of an idea possessing a certain amount of clarity, and a reconstruction of what was happening in this space over the years ranging from ’45 to ’52 — would shed light on some unexpected scenarios: one might possibly discover an approach to living and to organising work that would be unimaginable, and even a bit disconcerting, today. For example, one would find Cardinal Schuster, who invited Don Giovanni Calabria “to a scarlet red zone” as the priest himself defined the area, to acquire a plot of land from the Municipality. “What for?” The priest asks himself. Someone (Don Luigi Verzé, sent by the same Opera dei Servi Poveri della Divina Provvidenza (Poor Servants of Divine Providence)) would like a hospital and Schuster wanted a nursing home, to be followed by a complex for wayward boys left from the war.
In 1952 work began on a complex that integrated elementary and professional training schools — including related laboratory space, a dormitory with kindergarten and girls’ schools (run by the Ursuline Sisters of Verona), a residence for boys (unbuilt), the church and its parish. In this way, De Carli committed himself once again to his typical theme, the organism, in this case on an urban scale and determined by the aggregation of “architectural units of primary space.”
The area on which the Don Calabria Centre is built is trapezoidal in shape. Containing the complex’ buildings and open areas set aside for vegetation and parks. The general layout was based on a grid of octagons and squares and the buildings are placed within it as units, autonomous in their simplicity and finiteness, while also being open to the surroundings and to other buildings. The first to be built were the three laboratories hexagonal to the southeast of via Pusiano. They were separated by “external-internal” spaces (small, elongated courtyards) and characterised by the horizontal swash of balconies jutting out over the ground floor, which is set back, and from the continuity of modular fenestration in wood-framed windows, which, as Rossari observed, “levitates the volumes, detaching them from the ground, but at the same time establishes a dialogue between them, creating a reciprocal relationship.” In clarifying the relationships that should be established between the various architectural units, De Carli uses the metaphor of “a tree from an actual forest”, which is indeed a closed and finite element, but at the same time, is alive and open, communicating with its surroundings with branches that are welcoming but do not hold back. Later, the schools were constructed (a simple and elegant rectangular volume housing the secretarial offices and gym on the ground floor and in the basement, with classrooms on the upper floors), the dormitory, intended to accommodate young female workers or elderly ladies, and finally the parish church. If the school buildings were characterised by string courses in bush hammered concrete and light-coloured Klinker cladding, the dormitory (completely altered and unrecognisable) was punctuated by diagonal stepping down of the rooms, connected by a loggia, and the rhythmic articulation of doors, divided by string courses and engravings in the Klinker cladding. Marina Molon writes: “The Cimiano complex looks like a, “founding city”, a small ideal city on the outskirts, with its layout, its border and its architectural landmarks, even if everything — the shapes and arrangements — seems to be moving.”