Abandoned during the ‘80s, the industrial areas have been like a no-man’s-land in the heart of the city for at least a decade. Turin and Milan, the centers of the Italian economy, have particularly suffered from this phenomenon.
In the ‘90s, the municipalities began showing a certain interest for these sites: renovation projects were approved, aiming to join these areas with the city, founding here the space for new ideas.
Big societies started thinking about the possibility of taking advantage from this opportunity: it is from this reflection that the ex-industrial districts had a second life.
Wanted by Fiat president Gianni Agnelli, it became one of the examples of the Italian modernity in the architectural field. Le Corbusier defined this building as “one of the most impressive performance the industry has never seen”.
In 1982, Fiat decided to close the factory, because the production was moved outside the city, where bigger spaces were available.
The renovation works started in 1985, leaded by Renzo Piano, motivated in transforming these 378.000 m2 in the heart of Turin.
The architect decided to preserve the external façade and re-think the interior, because he wanted to give birth to a multifunctional area, open to the city and to future needs.
Works lasted around 20 years and Piano created a building hosting offices, a mall, a cinema, an exhibition center, a congress hall with an auditorium, spaces for hospitality activities and education centers.
On the roof, the testing track has been maintained, next to the meeting room called “the Bubble” with restaurant, a little helicopter platform and the Agnelli art gallery.
Inaugurated in 2002, this latter is hosted in what is called the “Casket”: reminding to a spaceship, in honor of the futuristic style of the original factory, it is made of crystal and steel and it is located on the roof of the building, in the middle of the testing track.
The Bicocca district, in the northern side of Milan, has always been an industrial area. In particular, at the beginning of the 1900, Pirelli society decided to move here the production.
It was the first of many others, such as Breda, Marelli and Falck, all operating in the heavy industry.
During the ‘80s, the sites were closed and the entire area was completely abandoned.
Ten years later, the renovation works were approved by the municipality, aiming to create here a technological campus, with the opening of the second public university of the city.
In the meanwhile, Pirelli decided to maintain the headquarter in the district and in 2004, the no-profit Pirelli HangarBicocca Foundation was created, decided to open here a center for the promotion of the contemporary art.
With its 15.000 m2 of exposition area, it is one of the biggest spaces dedicated to this activity in Europe. The site is a museum of industrial architecture in itself: the Shed was built in the ‘20s, Cubo, in the ‘50s, for testing the electric turbines and Navate, in the ’60, for testing big electrical machines.
HangarBicocca hosts temporary and permanent expositions and events; the access is completely free and some gallery guides helps the visitors in the approach with the artworks.
On the other side of the city, in Largo Isarco 2, Prada has inaugurated the new location for its foundation on May 2015.
It is located in an historical building of the ‘10s, where the Società Italiana Spiriti had its headquarter. The renovation works, leaded by Rem Koolhaas, started in 2008 and not yet finished.
The idea is to create a dialogue between the old structure (seven buildings where laboratories and stock areas were located) and the new parts (a temporary exhibition and a multifunctional area with a cinema and a tower), where welcoming the contemporary artworks.
The site covers an area of 19.000 m2, where the main interest is showing how two different styles can coexist, maintaining their distinctive features, because the final aim is to create an environment playing with the oppositions and the sensations this game generates.
The same interest in rediscovering abandoned places has led Giorgio Armani opening his museum in an old building in the Tortona district, in the southern part of Milan.
Built in the ‘50s and used as cereal stock area from the Nestlé group, the building has been renovated and from 2015 is the siège of the Armani museum.
Covering 4.500 m2 spread on four floors, this space welcomes a selection of the artworks created in 40 years of carrer, showing 600 dresses and 200 accessories, from 1980 to nowadays.
As Prada group, also Giorgio Armani wanted to valorize the origins of the place: the choice of the name is deeply linked to the nature of the location because “(…) this building used to store food, which is, of course, essential for life. For me, just as much as food, clothes are also a part of life.”
The general decorating style is very simple, following regular schemes and rational shapes. The renovation works have preserved the original profile of the building: it reminds to a beehive, metaphor of industriousness, highlighting the stylist research of the essentiality.
These are just the most famous –and the first- examples of a trend spread all over the country. Many other municipalities and societies are working together to create spaces where people can meet and spend time in a relaxing way.
The advantages of operations like these are many for both the sides: the city discovers unadopted areas, which can be the occasion for the implementation of new ideas and the solution to some critical situations; societies, from their side, find here the space for new activities and the occasion for building a relation with the city and the people.