What are the origins of your relationship with Milan?
My first connection with Milan was when I met Magistretti in the mid-1980s. I was his local architect for a small restaurant in London that he was executing. I designed a small shop for Pasquale Bruni 15 years ago and the Dolce & Gabbana store, both in Via della Spiga. After winning the competition for Mudec in 2000, we were a continuously going back and forth between London and Milan, and we soon decided to set up our office.
What is your favourite historical building in the city?
The Sforza Castle [Monumental Milan] is one, mostly for the BBPR installation, which is a particularly good example of exhibition architecture. Milan’s architecture of the 1950s and ’60s is quite special, and it’s exemplified by Ignazio Gardella. For instance, his little Casa al Parco apartment building near the Triennale, or his PAC museum, but also the nearby Torre al Parco by Vico Magistretti.
What do you normally do when you are in Milan?
I work. I live in room 211 at the Grand Hotel et de Milan. With my daughter two months ago and we spent the weekend walking around Milan. The city is still somehow remains unspoilt, despite everything. It’s a great city to walk around. Even last night, I arrived from Japan, I went to my hotel and then I went for a half- hour walk to Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and the Duomo.
Is there a shop in Milan where you buy special items?
Well, I sometimes go to Valentino boutique, in Montenapoleone, which we designed. However, I should say that all shopping is becoming very globalised, unfortunately.
Which new buildings have transformed the city?
I admire Herzog & de Meuron’s new Fondazione Giangiacomo Feltrinelli [Rising City]. They managed to build a high-quality building that isn’t a museum, but a commercial building. I also like the Fondazione Prada [Stroll for Flaneurs]. I think it’s done a lot for the city. I must say I’m not convinced by the interventions in the CityLife [Polycentric Centre]. I’m not sure it’s the right direction for the city, because there’s a risk of it all just becoming rather similar to what’s happening everywhere else. One dimension of Milan which I find really interesting is the urban structure with good-sized streets, good-height buildings and with varied architecture. In fact, there’s a surprising amount of really good architecture from all periods, and some exceptional architecture from the late 1950s and early ’60s. Milan’s urban structure is so clear that the different buildings can integrate in a very convincing way. It’s not an exuberant city, but I think that its solidity is striking and a powerful quality. Building roofs and courtyards are another dimension to the city. There are beautiful lobbies and staircases where the private and public meet in an engaging manner, and that’s very unique to Milan.
What would you transfer to Milan from another place?
From a city point of view, Milan has a perfect urban structure and the people value the lifestyle of the everyday. All cities depend on the hardware and the software – the people who live there and the buildings they live in – and I think the Milanese live in their city in the way that people should live in a city. In Milan, there exists a certain idea about going out for a coffee in the morning, an aperitif in the evening, the rituals of a city, going for a walk on a Sunday. I wish more cities were like Milan. I can more think of how Milan should export its qualities rather than bringing other qualities to Milan.
The only question is about how Milan can cope with today’s modernity, as it coped with postwar modernity incredibly well. Back then, architects like Gardella or Ponti were both modern and classical. They had a sense of tradition, but at the same time they were forward-thinking; their buildings seemed to be very embedded physically and culturally. Perhaps, Milan should look at how it dealt with modernity in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s more than looking at how London or other cities are dealing with investment. The big challenge for all cities now is how to deal with investment without strong urban planning and I think this is a problem for Milan, because recently it hasn’t really had much of the forward- thinking looking-backwards development that it used to.