A new view of Milan – Piazza Gae Aulenti

An unexpected highlight of a recent trip to Milan was a visit to the former red-light district surrounding the Garibaldi train station, the city’s main public transport hub. The area which borders Milan’s business district, is one of Italy’s largest regeneration projects.

Piazza Gae Aulenti

Piazza Gae Aulenti

With the majority of the works completed in time for Expo last year in Milan, the regenerated area features a thrilling variety of modern architecture, bars, shops and restaurants. At the centre is Piazza Gae Aulenti, dedicated to pioneering female architect and designer Gae Aulenti (1927-2012), best known for her large-scale museum projects, including the Musée D’Orsay in Paris and Palazzo Grassi in Venice.

UnicreditbuildingwithsolarpoweredLamp in foreground

The piazza and surrounding buildings in slate, iron, wood and glass have been built with eco-sustainability in mind. Solar panels provide enough power for all three nearby towers. Three circular fountains in the centre are surrounded by a continuous curved seat made of smooth stone. With superstar architects and designers involved, the gleaming result is no surprise. Partners included American urban design firm EDAW (now part of AECOM)  who also developed the master plan for the 2012 London summer Olympics and Argentinian-American architect César Pelli whose projects include One Canada Square in Canary Wharf, London.


Adjacent to the piazza are the futuristic Unicredit (also designed by Pelli) and Regione Lombardia skyscrapers. At 218 metres, the tallest of the three curved Unicredit towers ranks as the highest in Italy. In contrast, is a wooden cultural pavilion, also owned by Unicredit, nicknamed ‘the slug’ or ‘the seed’ by locals. The ribs of the building are from the Larch tree and the roof is solar panelled. The ‘slug’s’ Italian architect Michele De Lucchi has an interesting portfolio which includes the retail shops Camper, Moschino and Mandarina Duck, as well as his own Produzione Privata, described as a ‘design laboratory’ for creating lamps, vases and chairs, some of which are available in UK retail outlets.


From the square we strolled down one of the connecting pedestrianised paths in the new park past ‘Wheatfield’ created by conceptual artist Agnes Denes to replicate her famous 1982 installation of a two-acre field of wheat in downtown Manhattan.

Our next stop was the Casa della Memoria (House of Memory), a beautifully red-tiled community centre with portraits of ordinary people involved in the fight against fascism and other major events preserved on the outside of the building.The arresting images are archival pictures from newspapers.

Just outside the park, we came across Bosco Verticale (Vertical forest), two very swish apartment buildings designed by Stephano Boeri, Director of Domus magazine. Boeri’s plan was to introduce a new way of living and to bring nature into the city. Each building accommodates over 900 trees and 2,000 shrubs on the exterior terraces and each flat has its own mini ‘forest’. Property here sells for a mere 10,000 euros/square metre.





We finished our tour of the area with lunch at Ristorante Ratana on the edge of the park.  The restaurant is in a handsome Art Nouveau former railway depot and in keeping with the ethos of the newly regenerated area, has used up-cycled railway tracks for tables and floors. The excellent menu is worth mentioning too; Milanese meatballs and artichokes in anchovy cream are just two of the dishes which encourage a repeat visit.

Words: Joanne Shurvell

Photos: Paul Allen


2 Responses to “A new view of Milan – Piazza Gae Aulenti”

  1. Thanks for the informative insights into the city. I was there briefly last year, ahead of the Expo. I’ll look out for this district when I’m next in the city.

    • Jo Shurvell says:

      Hi Stuart,
      Thanks for your feedback and glad you enjoyed reading the article. This regenerated area is definitely worth checking out.

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