New Milan Visions
Written by Tristan Rutherford
From this May, Milan will welcome 20 million visitors to its citywide EXPO2015 event. Milanese expert Tristan Rutherford tours the city’s brand-new art, architecture, and epicurean sights.
Milan isn’t Florence or Venice. Italy’s commercial capital is the epicentre of Italian finance, fashion, industry, and design. New openings from food to fine art dovetail with the EXPO2015 celebrations.
A swathe of new museums have opened in anticipation of the expected EXPO visitors. Most of them are housed in the vast warehouses that once formed the beating heart of Milan’s manufacturing zone. Visitors to the HangarBicocca step into the pitch black of a former factory depot. Here 18m-high industrial sculptures are spotlit from above like icons from the engineering age. The new Children’s Museum (MUBA) is housed in the Rotonda della Besana, a baroque building complex near the Prada headquarters. Meanwhile the Museo del Novecento is set within the 1950s Palazzo dell’Arengario, but has a distinctly contemporary spiral ramp that corkscrews up to a panoramic viewing terrace. Back downstairs, the museum shows a collection of seldom-seen canvases from Matisse, de Chirico, and Modigliani.
This spring, all eyes are on the brand-new Fondazione Prada, due to open in May in tandem with the EXPO event. The Prada fashion family’s vast exhibition space was designed by Dutch urban architect Rem Koolhaas. In keeping with Milan’s industrial heritage, Koolhaas’s team took over a century-old brewery and added an ultra-modern eight-storey viewing tower. Foundation boss Miuccia Prada hopes it will become “a new landmark in Milan’s urban landscape”. All told, there will be 11,000 sqm of space for temporary shows, plus Prada’s own contemporary art collection. Plus a library and cinema. And a bar styled by the movie industry’s most off-the-wall director, Wes Anderson.
As Italy’s design and fashion capital, Milan’s hotels cater for everyone from visiting aesthetes to the editor of Vogue. The Bulgari boasts B&B Italia furniture. SevenStars Galleria blends vistas over the flagship Prada store with a ‘seven-star’ butler service. And the Armani Hotel is a golden glass cube atop a designer sandwich of Armani Jeans, Armani Casa, and the Armani Privé nightclub.
But the city’s latest hotels house the future. IKEA-owned concept hotel Moxy targets smartphone-addicted Millennials with reception-area DJs and a communal Instagram feed. Its 17 sqm guestrooms are built for recharging guests and their peripherals with high-thread-count linens and more plug sockets than NASA’s headquarters. Most components arrived flatpacked, meaning the Moxy was assembled in just six months in 2014. After Milan, the concept will be slowly unpacked across the world.
Il Ducaopens later in 2015. Suites at this five-star hotel are wired up as integrated digital media hubs – which translates as hands-free phones and interactive mood lighting. More low-key is the recently opened Magna Pars. Its 28 suites have been decorated by artists from the nearby Brera Fine Arts Academy. Its pairing of innovative design with local talent marks Milan’s 21st-century ambitions.
Creating one of Europe’s largest construction projects? It’s best to bring in the big names. For CityLife, Milan’s entirely new neighbourhood, the architects are more famous than the city’s football squad.
The zone’s inaugural 50-storey skyscraper has opened this year. It was styled by Arata Isozaki, who designed Doha’s Weill Cornell Medical College but is more famous in Italy for creating Turin’s Winter Olympic Arena. A second twisting tower, due to open in 2016, comes courtesy of Anglo-Arabian architect Zaha Hadid, the brains behind Qatar’s FIFA World Cup stadium. Daniel Libeskind, creator of New York’s new World Trade Center, is building a final skyscraper that curves sideways.
But a global gathering of ‘starchitects’ isn’t the only news. What’s more interesting is that the CityLife suburb is almost entirely car-free. Residents are encouraged to commute on two wheels using Milan’s novel BikeMi cycle-sharing scheme. A new driverless Metro line runs below Zaha Hadid’s tower. And a scooter-sharing scheme is planned for later this year. For those who must drive, an innovative underground road system banishes cars to a subterranean car park, part of which sits under the newly built CityLife public park.
However, the best view of the city’s new skyline comes from atop its original ‘skyscraper’. A €7 (US$7.50) ticket will grant you access to the roof terrace of the Duomo, the 108m-high cathedral in Milan’s central piazza. Views pan past the CityLife neighbourhood to the snowy Alps.
According to the new breed of restaurateurs, the future of food isn’t fast. Italy’s pioneering Slow Food organisation has instilled a fierce love of local produce into the national psyche. In Milan, the latest trend combines indigenous eats with the possibility to purchase the ingredients on your plate.
Tagliois one such hybrid. It’s a ristorante (dishing up porcini-topped risotto and raw beef tartare) on one side, and an emporio (purveying home-baked bread and stuffed tortelli) on the other. So stocked is the salesroom that stepladders are used to reach the rows of Gragnano dried pasta, Pugliese olive oil, and alpine goats’ cheese.
Newly opened Eataly combines 15 different restaurants with a take-home selection of blowout picnic proportions. A sustainable fish counter sells (and serves) Mediterranean red mullet and bucketloads of Adriatic clams. The gelato store was the brainchild of Michelin-starred chef Ugo Alciati. Milk from pasture-fed white Piedmontese cows is blended with Venchi chocolate for an A-list ice cream.
Seeking absolute authenticity? Then stroll where the city’s Michelin-starred chefs shop every other weekend. Milan’s bi-monthly Mercato della Terra, or ‘Earth Market’, takes over the courtyard of the Fabbrica del Vapore former railway factory. Sit at trestle tables to try sambuca flower smoothies or truffle and cheese sandwiches.
EXPO2015 follows a long history of Universal Expositions. The Great Exhibition at London’s Crystal Palace in 1851 showcased a prototype fax machine. New York’s World’s Fair in 1939 highlighted consumer technology from disposable razors to Smell-O-Vision. This year’s event from May 1 to October 31 has the theme of ‘Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life’. In all, 140 nations will exhibit ground-breaking future food ideas, from vertical-wall farming in the USA to desalination and reforestation in Arabia.
It would take an entire week to touch, feel, smell, and interact with all the 57 pavilions. But one of the highlights is Qatar's souq-style building, which is as colourfully dynamic as an Arabian market. Green technologies are highlighted inside a giant jafeer food basket. A roof garden sits on top. Just save room for the 100 restaurants dotted throughout the 400-hectare EXPO grounds. Several are managed by the Slow Food movement, while gourmet outfit Eataly operates 20 others.
Milan is the home of Italian megabrands Prada, Armani, and Dolce & Gabbana. However, Milanese fashionistas are keen to be seen decked out in the next big local label. Armani-trained Arthur Arbesser has put out just three years of collections in his trademark monochrome, thick-knit, and kimono styles, but is already touted as the city’s hottest talent. Arbesser’s handful of stockists include Wait & See in Via Santa Marta, although he has an ardent following in Japan and Korea.
Tel: +39 02 54120359
Milan’s most famous chef is Carlo Cracco. He certainly had the training. His mentors included the Michelin three-star chefs Alain Ducasse and Gualtiero Marchesi, the latter being Milan’s 84-year-old founder of modern Italian cuisine. Cracco’s latest foodie concept opened inside a former sawmill in 2014. Carlo e Camilla sources heirloom tomatoes and local burrata mozzarella, then serves them up at a communal dining table that can seat 42 guests.
Tel: +39 02 8373963
Jewellery designer Monica Castiglioni’s store on Via Pastrengo is a mini-museum. Her carefully curated selection of flower-bud rings, sun-swirl pendants, and stone-studded earrings changes by the month. Castiglioni designs almost exclusively in brass and adores the metal’s powerful glow and sheer heft. Indeed, her chunky chainmail bracelets are positively Game of Thrones. After 30 years in the trade, she’s doing well. Business is so good that her store only opens from Thursday morning to Saturday evening.
Tel: +39 02 87237979
Distance: 4,359 km
Flight Time: 6 hours, 40 minutes
Frequency: 2 flights a day