Rethinking Milan's Rationalist Architecture

Milan's Rationalist buildings showcase a movement fueled by innovation and experimentation, and not just facist ideology. To appreciate Milan's architectural landscape, one needs to take an objective perspective. The case of Italian Rationalism under autarky (self-sufficiency) in the 1930s is a prime example. By examining the design choices made under these constraints, we gain a deeper understanding of the period's architectural language.

Autarky forced Italian architects and designers to rethink their materials and processes. Cut off from traditional sources, they embraced experimentation. This period saw the rise of innovative materials like composite marble dust for cladding, lightweight steel structures, and even "coral" composites mimicking natural textures.

This focus on new materials is evident in the Armani Hotel on via Manzoni by Enrico Griffini (1937). Ignoring the fascist symbolism, the building's clean lines, geometric forms, and cohesive use of different materials exemplify the quintessential Rationalist style.

However, it's important not to forget Milan's historical context during the industrial period. The Valsecchi Palace on via dei Gesu is a noteworthy example. Here, functionality and a cohesive overall design (Gesamtkunstwerk) served the bourgeoisie's desire to showcase wealth, heritage all with a touch of restraint. This building highlights the mastery of Milanese bourgeoisie in managing the tension between modernist ideals and perserving the country's rich heritage; an artform that dominates the philosophy of architecture and product design in Milan.

The Rationalist movement was therefore not a bubble. It arose from specific historical influences that dated back to the industrial period. By understanding its context, we can gain a richer appreciation for Milan's footprint in modern architecture.

Interested in learning more? 72 Smalldive offers a "Tradition & Avant Garde" tour that delves into Milan's architectural legacy, exploring the city's transformation into a modern metropolis. This tour can help you decipher the fascinating interplay between tradition and innovation that continues to shape Milan's cityscape.

Back to blog

Mind Broadening Tour Experiences

Discover the rich history and culture of Milan with our contextual walking tour experiences. Created by our impassioned founder, each tour is designed to take you on a journey through the city's past and present, connecting you to each location on a deeper level and allowing you to see the city with relevant modern perspectives. Whether you're a history buff, culture enthusiast, or simply curious about Milan, our contextual tour experience is the perfect way to experience this vibrant and dynamic city.