Modern Milan

Like most Italian cities, Milan has an amazing and very visible history that spans two millennia of art and architecture. But what really distinguishes it from other città is the ever-present testament to modernism and modern architecture—all accessible via the charming vintage trams.

Piazza del Duomo, 8, 20123 Milano MI, Italy
The Museo del Novecento (Museum of the 20th century) is a visual lesson in one century of Italian art history. Housed is the 1930s Palazzo dell’Arengario by Rationalist architects Piero Portaluppi and Giovanni Muzio. The Novecento also houses an amazing collection, Who’s Who of the 1900s, including Italians Balla, Modigliani, Boccioni, Martini, Morandi, and De Chirico and international artists like Picasso, Matisse, and Klee. In fact, the museum is considered one of the world’s most important collections of Italian and international 20th-century art in Italy—Futurism, Spatialism, and Arte Povera. Keep your eye out for Piero Manzoni’s clever Arte Povera pieces, Arturo Marini’s large stone figures, and Pellizza Da Volpedo’s monumental painting Il Quarto Stato (The Fourth Estate). Martini also did the palazzo’s exterior bas relief. Bonus: The upper level bar/restaurant overlooks Piazza del Duomo.
Via Alessandro Manzoni, 31, 20121 Milano MI, Italy
The Armani Hotel Milano occupies a beautiful, box-shaped 1930s palazzo in the beating heart of Milan’s fashion district. As striking as it looks from the outside, it’s arguably even more glamorous on the inside. Every aspect of its interior, from the mother-of-pearl doors to the leather-lined walls, has been either designed or approved by Giorgio Armani himself. The overall aesthetic is smart and elegant, thanks to the neutral color scheme of beiges and light grays. Special touches abound, including Armani amenities in the gray marble bathrooms, complimentary minibars, and a “lifestyle manager” appointed to each guest upon arrival.

The hotel’s 95 rooms come in various sizes and types, ranging from Armani Deluxe rooms, with their own deep bathtubs, to two-story Armani Signature Suites, which offer stylish central staircases and their own living rooms. The seventh floor of the building houses the impressive Armani/Ristorante, with floor-to-ceiling windows that look out onto Milan’s skyline. An Armani/Bamboo Bar and Armani/SPA provide further opportunities for exquisite in-house indulgence.
14 Via Mozart
The Villa Necchi Campiglio, just to the east of the historic center of Milan, may look familiar. The house had a turn on the silver screen in the 2009 Italian movie “I Am Love,” starring Tilda Swinton. Even if you didn’t see the film, anyone interested in early 20th-century architecture should include this gem of Italian rationalism on their Milan itinerary. The house is named for the occupants of most of its history: the sisters Gigina and Nedda Necchi and Gigina’s husband, Angelo Campiglio. The sisters—a glamorous, cosmopolitan pair—commissioned architect Piero Portaluppi (who also designed Milan’s Museo Novecento) to build a house that was the height of fashion at the time, including such novelties as a heated outdoor pool and a tennis court. His rationalist style could be described as a no-expenses-spared modernism—simple, clean lines and rich finishes. Gleaming rosewood paneling, marble bathrooms, and customs pieces give this modernist structure an undeniable elegance. After a brief period when the home was commandeered by the Fascist Party, the sisters returned to their home. Architect Tomaso Buzzi was hired to give the villa some 19th-century touches and a less severe look, reflecting the fashion among upper-class Italians in the 1950s. Still, the home remained largely true to its original design when Gigina died in 2000 (at the age of 99) and left it to Italy‘s national trust. In 2008, it opened to the public as a museum.
Piazza Duca d'Aosta, 1, 20124 Milano MI, Italy
Whether you have time to kill while waiting for your train or you simply like architecture, Milan’s main train station, Stazione Centrale, is worth a walk through for its epic 20th-century architecture. Originally designed at the turn of the century, Stazione Centrale has beautiful, monumental Liberty and Art Deco ornament in its main hall and entrances, while the platform area is covered in a gorgeous rooftop of iron arches. If you have a few more minutes, the Stazione also has some great shops, a traditional Motta caffe, and one of the best newsstands in the city.
Piazza del Duomo, 20123 Milano MI, Italy
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is more than a shopping center, it’s a place for coffee, drink and dessert. Even more, in the center of the shopping center, there is a mosaic art of bull, which is said that if you spin your heel on the ball three times, it will bring you good luck. Of course a lot of people were spinning on the ball, and there is a hole on the mosaic art.
Piazza del Duomo, Milano MI, Italy
The historic and modern center of the city, the Piazza del Duomo (the square surrounding the cathedral’s base) remains a popular meeting place, hangout and hub of Milanese life. Local vendors setup shop (selling fresh coconut in the summer, toys and tourist wares), kids run and play (free from traffic) and shoppers trickle in from the walking street surrounding the huge plaza. The statue of Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of Italy, is the best place to meet, sit, recharge and watch the city go by.
Piazza degli Affari, 20123 Milano MI, Italy
Palazzo Mezzanotte (Mezzanotte Palace) is the seat of Italy’s stock market and a great example of 1930s architecture. Designed by architect Paolo Mezzanotte it was considered the most tech building of its time. 21st notoriety can claim artist Maurizio Cattelan’s comment to finance in the form of a large hand with extended middle placed in the very center of the piazza.
5 Piazza Velasca
Torre Velasca is modern Milan‘s homage to its medieval prominence. The tower was built in the late 1940s/50s on the site of a neighborhood bombed out during World War II and is a testament to monument construction. It towers over the city with an omnipotent vibe harking back to days past.
Via Fabio Filzi, 22, 20124 Milano MI, Italy
The Pirelli Tower is considered one of the most elegant “tall buildings” in the world, and at one point, it was one of the tallest. (And it was the tallest in Italy until 2010). The tapered, 32-story, 417-foot tower was developed in the 1950s by Gio Ponti with the assistance of Pierluigi Nervi, two of Italy’s best modern architects. The tower was also inspiration for the design of New York’s MetLife (formerly Pan Am) Building.
Via Santa Margherita
Milan is a different city at night, when the inky blue skies and warm orange street lights reflect on the grey facades of the city’s buildings. The architecture- bombastic, monumental and sometimes even modern- is like a page out of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.
Via Vittor Pisani
Via Vittor Pisani, leading up to Milan‘s Stazione Centrale, is a long and open boulevard, lined with modern buildings. It’s quiet, and if you catch it in the right light, it has a vague Ayn Rand/The Fountainhead feel to it. The neighborhood surrounding the train station is less pedicured than other parts of the city and filled with more affordable hotels.
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