21 December 2016 - Milan

Fondazione Feltrinelli

Photo by Filippo Romano

More remarkable architecture in central Milan. Just to the west of the Porta Nuova redevelopment that’s revolutionised the Milanese skyline, the Fondazione Feltrinelli has a new home, a secular cathedral of learning designed by Herzog and de Meuron.

The area’s known as Porta Volta after a former city gate. Site design was significantly shaped by its history: the remains of sixteenth-century Spanish walls are, in fact, preserved within the singular building – one of three along with a public green zone in the masterplan– which flanks Viale Pasubio.

It’s long (188m) and narrow (16m) with a Gothic roof pitch (32 m tall). The whole in glass, 10,598 square metres of it to be precise. Influenced by the simplicity and ample proportions of certain historic buildings in the city as well as the linear architecture of rural Lombardy, it’s also perfectly in keeping with the Feltrinelli spirit of openness and transparency.

The Foundation traces its history back to 1949 when Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, a few years before establishing one of Italy’s biggest publishing houses, initiated an archive of contemporary history and social movements. It now consists of 200,000 books as well as 17,500 reviews, 1.5 million unbound documents and 20,000 photographs.

Its new quarters contain history but look to the future. They’re intended largely as a public space, inspiring and supporting the active participation of citizens in public life.

The historical collection is kept safely underground. The bookstore and cafeteria are at street level, while the first floor is one with the second, a double-height space usable for events, exhibitions, whatever.  The Foundation’s offices and research rooms occupy the next two floors up, and the fifth, under that Gothic glass roof, is the extraordinary reading room.