|Architect||BBPR (Gian Luigi Banfi, Lodovico Belgiojoso, Enrico Peresutti, Ernesto Rogers)|
|Address||Piazza Velasca 5|
|Building Type||Slab, double-loaded|
|Number of Dwellings||c. 100|
|Dwelling Types||1,2 bedroom flats, penthouse apartments w/terraces|
|cast stone, concrete,pre-cast concrete, metal windows|
|Construction Type||RC frame|
|Ancillary Services||18 floors office, commerical space, 100 auto parking|
An important philosophical debate in the 1950’s centered on the form that architecture should take in the post-modern period. The reaction to CIAM principles came to focus at the CIAM –X meeting at Aix-en-Provence in 1953. Under the editorship of Vittorio Gregotti (from 1957), the magazine Casabella published several articles by Aldo Rossi, Guido Canella and others in support of a new style, the so-called “neoliberty” style as shown in the work of Gae Aulenti, Giorgio Ranier, Paolo Portoghese, Giancarlo De Carlo, Ignazio Gardella, BBPR (Gian Luigi Banfi, Lodovico Belgiojoso, Enrico Peresutti, Ernesto Rogers), and others. In an effort to define the resistance to the new direction, Renyar Banham attacked the neo liberty style in Architectural Review, in the article, “Neoliberty, The Italian Retreat from Modern Architecture”.
Torre Velasca became a key building in the debate about the emerging new style and might be seen as the centerfold of the Neoliberty dossier. Completed in 1958 it was presented the following year at the CIAM conference in Otterlo where it was the subject of intense discussion and was perceived by the majority attending as representing the worst of the Italian “escape fatalism” attitude as opposed to the utopian concepts espoused by Team X. Torre Velasca was a controversial building, representative of a tendency in Italian architecture at the time to withdraw from the functionalist and rationalist doctrines of the Modern Movement and embrace, instead, regional vernacular, even nostalgic values in an attempt to define an era beyond Modern Architecture that was more contextual and urbanistically compatible with existing cities and buildings. The exposed flying columns, sloping copper roof, reddish color, and small windows resulted in the appearance of a medieval Lombardese tower of gigantic dimensions. The architects insisted, however, that the form was the result of the mixed us-use program, city height restrictions, a need to place the dwellings at the top of the building and a desire to avoid modernist pallet of bright colors in favor of traditional Milanese materials, brick and stone.
Torre Velasca was built in a part of the city that had been destroyed by WWII bombing. The 24-story tower of shops, offices and apartments is freestanding in a square plaza, surrounded by lower buildings that contain shops and offices. The tower is divided into a lower zone, 18-stories high, which contains offices that are organized around a central mechanical core and corridor. The top zone of 8 floors contains one and two bedroom apartments and projects out several meters from the lower face of the building. The exterior columns bend out around this projection creating curious bracket supports for the top floors. The top two floors that step back are reserved for penthouse apartments with terraces. There are two basement levels of parking and the 19th floor, between the offices and apartments, a level that is slightly recessed emphasizing the change from commercial to residential, is used for mechanical equipment. A two-story high pavilion containing larger commercial space attaches to the south side of the tower at its base and also forms an entrance to the building. Together, the tower and pavilion mostly fill the piazza leaving little room except for parking.
The floor plans are those of a rectangular slab organized around two interior service cores and corridor. The plan enlarges in the upper floors with 1 and 2 bedroom flats each with a balcony. The variety of the residential plans results in a more chaotic pattern of windows on the upper facades. The articulated, angled columns that support the top floors seem drawn from the iron buttresses of Viollet-le-Duc or gothic stone buttresses since the structure is reinforced concrete. Concrete was the structural material of choice because of the much higher cost of steel in Italy at this time. Still the decision to express the frame as such an exaggerated external structure seems inconsistent with the basic rectangular footprint; the upper floors could easily have been cantilevered forward of the plane of the office building below. Without the frame, the expression of the exterior walls is an exercise in modernist composition and construction; cast stone panels, precast concrete mullions, and a limited pallet of repeating windows. The problem with Torre Velasca is that there was an obvious mismatch between the needs of an existing urban condition and the huge building program. The architects may have had Neoliberty principles in mind, but the program at hand was pure Modernist: a 26-story tower built in the center of a small piazza enclosed by 5-6 story buildings.
Grandi, Maurizio; Attilio Pracchi, Milano: Guida all'architettura Moderna, Zanichelli Editore, Bologna, 1980, pp. 299-301, 313
Newman, Oscar, New Frontiers in Architecture CIAM '59 in Otterlo, Kramer, Stuttgart, 1961, pp. 93-97.