Sottsass and Piazzale Loreto

by Federico Parolotto

location of Castiglioni sculpture in Piazzale Loreto

location of Castiglioni sculpture in Piazzale Loreto

Piazzale Loreto has been significant for Italian history since the tragic events of World War II, as discussed in an earlier post. Today, there are no traces of these tragic events apart from a sculpture by Giannino Castiglioni (father to Achille Castiglioni).  This sculpture, coherently with the alienating nature of Piazzale Loreto, is located in a rather inaccessible part of the square.Past events related to the square still influence the residents’ way of thinking. Indeed, opening up discussions about Piazzale Loreto creates a situation that seems doomed to become a disaster.

In combination with the square’s critical location within Milan, this is the reason that Loreto has been the object of numerous urban design and architecture competitions throughout the years.

In a 1985 competition to reshape the square, Sottsass proposed a very surprising entry. This flamboyant architect, famous for his furniture design, envisaged a rather aggressive scheme for the reconfiguration of Loreto. Indeed, his design approach was very different from his conception of interior design, which is clearly developed around ideas that are not centered around a functionalistic approach.

Sottsass's proposal for Piazzale Loreto

Sottsass's proposal for Piazzale Loreto

The project proposes a huge amount of infrastructure, which occupies the square and manages traffic on different levels above ground (it is not possible to provide underground vehicular connections because a metro station is located beneath the square). The result is alarming: it is suprising that designers proposed to address transport issues in a dense urban network with this kind of solution. Even the pastel-coloured eye-level perspective fails to convince the viewer of the quality of the proposed urban space.

Sottsass's proposal for Piazzale Loreto

an eye-level perspective of the proposal

Approximately 15 years later, Studio Nizzoli proposed a less radical approach to Piazzale Loreto. Their proposal was somewhat less aggressive: pedestrians occupy an upper level, and the ground level is entirely dedicated to car use.

The proposed two-level system extends towards corso Buenos Aires. Their scheme essentially amounts to a rather late reinterpretation of the typical split infrastructure of the 70s and 80s, which has proved to generate very unpleasant urban environments.

the Nizzoli proposal

the Nizzoli proposal for Piazzale Loreto

It is easy to imagine how this split level strategy would have transformed this area of the city, to the detriment of the overall urban quality. There a numerous built examples, although not as central as Piazzale Loreto: viale Monte Ceneri and Piazzale Corvetto, both built in the early 60s, or the recently built junction at Piazzale Maggi, an enormous split-level system ruthlessly built despite the strong opposition of the neighbourhood’s residents.

piazzale Maggi

Unfortunately, the way of thinking that results in this over-dimensioned infrastructure still persists. It is evident in politicians’ unbending defense of a new vehicular tunnel that supposed to cross Milan from north to south, with strategically located ramps. The solution is intended to reduce traffic at grade, but would once again put an “unfair advantage on the car” (John Whitelegg 1993).

Our approach for Piazzale Loreto is different: it is based on the reconfiguration of the mobility flows crossing the square, allowing pedestrians to move at grade. Junctions are designed to be tighter and the space dedicated to vehicular movement is minimised. The phasing of the signalised junctions allows both cars and pedestrians to move smoothly across the square.

We propose to redesign the space by knitting the spaces together; the project is about reducing infrastructure rather than adding to it.

The reconfiguration of urban flows can help reshape and redefine a new and better city.

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