At the end of the 50s decade, the Velasca Tower in Milan rapidly became one of the most analyzed and discussed buildings. Design by the partnership formed by Gianluigi Banfi, Lodovico Barbiano di Belgiojoso, Enrico Peressutti, and Ernesto Nathan Rogers the structure represented a great icon of ideological transition between those who defended strict modernism and the application of technology in construction, and those who, on the other hand, were opened to a Regional Modernism (benchmark Lewis Mumford1); incorporating historical references to the design.
What was called functionalism was a one-sided interpretation of function […] The rigorists placed the mechanical functions of a building above its human functions; they neglected the feelings, the sentiments, and the interests of the person who was to occupy it.
– Lewis Mumford
Velasca Tower Technical Information
- Architects: BBPR partnership
- Design Team: Gianluigi Banfi (1910-1945), Lodovico Barbiano di Belgiojoso (1909-2004), Enrico Peressutti (1908-1976), Ernesto Nathan Rogers (1909-1968)
- Location: Milan, Italy
- Client: Sociedad General Immobiliare
- Topics: Offices, Apartments, Towers, Concrete, Historicism, CIAM
- Project Year: 1956-1958
Velasca Tower Photographs
The ideals stated by the CIAM in the prewar times of the Second World War were completely opposed to this “Neoliberty” icon that still draws an ornamental contour in Milan’s skyline.
Even by the purely local standards of Milan and Turin, then, Neoliberty is infantile regression.
– Reyner Banham referring to Velasca Tower²
The Velasca’s Tower plot area was placed in Milan’s historical center near the Duomo Cathedral. This context made the aesthetics definition a difficult task for the architects. The historical reminiscences may not confuse the observer, as its structure, far from being an outdated design, constituted excellent progress for the epoch (see the architectural plan at the image gallery below). There is a significant effort to improve the inner space by placing most of the structure in the façade.
The building’s first sketches were proposing a steel structure, but eventually, a reinforced concrete structure was implemented for cost reasons. Regarding this matter, we could discard certain prejudices and consider the virtue of this project’s pragmatic approach.
Once presented a comprehensive insight and with the privilege of watching the past events from a distance, we could probably give a better response to this question:
Does the Velasca Tower represent a discordant element in Milan’s fabric or denies contemporaneity’s architectural principles?
Velasca Tower Plans
Velasca Tower Image Gallery
BBPR was an architectural partnership founded in Milan, Italy, in 1932. The studio was formed in a climate described by Giorgio Ciucci as “oscillating between differing and contrasting positions.” Their contribution to the development of Rationalism is evident in their architecture and their involvement with MIAR and the journal Quadrante born as a rival to Casabella.
Their work held general appeal and was also appreciated and promoted by Edoardo Persico and Giuseppe Pagano at Casabella. Along with the editor Valentino Bompiani, the BBPR group is credited for the Italian Civilisation building’s original idea.
The Guerrini-La Padula-Romano project’s selection was fraught with polemics since it is argued that their eulogy to the most Roman of architectural motif – the arch – is what won them the first prize, a prize which some say deservedly belonged to the Milanese architects. Their adherence to Fascism was short-lived, and they soon became members of the resistance: Banfi and Belgiojoso were imprisoned at the Mauthausen concentration camp where Banfi died and Rogers, being of Jewish descent, was forced into exile in Switzerland.
- “Bay Region Style” in his column “Status Quo,” The New Yorker, 11 (October 1947), pp. 108–109.
- Banham’s essay “The Italian Retreat from Modern Architecture,” Architectural Review, 125 (April 1959), p. 235.
- Alberto Ferrari, Le Azioni del Progetto, Mantova, Tre lune, 2003.