It is always there to represent us, and if “to give form to the world of tomorrow it is necessary to rethink our multiple roots,” as Salvatore Settis asserts in his Futuro del ‘classico’ (Einaudi, 2004), this interior would not convey a tribute to architecture and new seasons of life without the DNA of Portaluppi, and a fond family retrofit. The scene has changed, but everything continues to function, in happy coexistence between history and contemporary character, in the apartment of Filippo Taidelli at the upper level of a building the architect Piero Portaluppi, his great-grandfather, designed in Milan towards the end of the 1930s. We are on Via Morozzo della Rocca, not far from the very Milanese church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, in a severe palazzo whose façade is clad in slabs of serizzo ghiandone stone; the atrium with the steps features walls in rare malachite green marble.
On the ground floor, now the home of Fondazione Portaluppi, the great master had created his studio. “Right there, in a zone where draftsmen worked, after returning from studies and training abroad when I was just past 20 years old, I found refuge in a fantastic space on the courtyard,” Taidelli recalls. He returned to his family home with his wife Julia and their three children just a few years ago, after the conclusion of the renovation of the apartment on the upper level, which enjoys an optimal indoor-outdoor relationship thanks to a fine terrace. “The classic arrangement of the time, with a central corridor and rooms at the perimeter, has been transformed into a jointed open space,” he explains, “that embraces the kitchen, entrance and living area in a fluid sequence of passageway spaces that visually connect the terrace to the east with the internal courtyard, flooding them with natural light.
The new layout rotates around the sole ‘relic’ of the past, the fair-face reinforced concrete pillar of the original structure, which by now has become a member of the family.” The unique details are obviously still those created by Portaluppi. “His traces remain in the large guillotine windows with sills in multicolored marble, transformed into glass doors on the side of the terrace for greater indoor-outdoor continuity; in the walnut parquet flooring and the original ‘busty’ internal doors with the handle at the center (the obsession with symmetry triumphs, for once, over functional concerns). But also in the furnishings: the chest in briar in a diamond pattern, a favorite geometric figure also found in the woven wood of the radiator gratings, the stem lamps with diffusers in screen-printed glass, with wiring from the 1930s updated for today’s standards.
The upgrade of the physical plant systems was quite a challenge,” he continues. “Replacing the ruined lead pipes in a bathroom entirely clad in marble – floor and walls – while conserving the original material was a surgical operation. In another bathroom, the same problem led us to use resin for the floor, though by recycling the salvaged marble we were able to totally refurbish the stone facings of the walls.”
This is not a classic conservative restoration, then, but a pursuit of harmony without imitation in an interior that had already been partially revised over time. The project’s signature is precisely the effective mixture of sedimentations and contaminations generated by the grafting of new signs, furnishings and objects, deposited in an almost philological, light, impalpable way inside an enclosure that has become a sort of custom-made laboratory. A proving ground in which to test solutions, developing the most successful ones, also in different ways for other projects. For example, there are the new lamps by Taidelli, such as the PHI Lamp by Firmamento Milano hanging over the dining table, the family of circular coffee tables in steel with reflecting tops, also by Taidelli, the pieces from Arper (Saya chairs) and fabrics from C&C that cover sofas and cushions, a painting of the Madonna with Child by Gaudenzio Ferrari, next to a work by the contemporary artist Alice Tomaselli. Then come the photographs, artist’s proofs by Taidelli’s friend Adrian Paci (for whom the architect designed the Art House in Albania), images by Andrea Martiradonna, “the essential drawing of two small drops by Roni Horn that reflects the fragile poetry of a micro-sculpture of a ballerina by Melotti,” many books and other expressions of a personal professional, emotional and cultural dimension.
The core of the house is the kitchen, which by setting aside the longitudinal arrangement of the spatial layout from the 1930s is now located near the entrance. A somewhat hybrid zone, dominated by wall glazings on metal frames, permeable to light and view, “conceived as a large work counter with domestic walnut legs, open shelving, a hood over the burners by Portaluppi, recovered as was the beautiful pantry table with is top in Verde Alpi marble, in harmony with the Botticino marble of the window casements,” Taidelli says. On the terrace, the green backdrop of plants and the arched structure of the pergola in iron – almost illegible since it is wrapped in a grape vine and an old jasmine – guarantee ideal shading of the internal living spaces, interfaced with the staircase that connects the main level to the new portion of the dwelling created under the eaves.
The dormers built into the classic pitched roof were made after the original construction, and have now been gauged to match the sizing and characteristics of the front with windows below them, set back with respect to the street. “In the 1960s an inhabited space was created in the attic, and when I came to live here I purchased half of the sixth floor of a neighboring building, corresponding to my unit,” the designer explains. “I outfitted it with new dormers to generate ventilation and new accesses to make the spaces independent in the future.” Upstairs, the atmosphere is forcefully contemporary and the perception of the space changes, revealing a process of multigenerational hybridization of functions, while large equipped walls in pale oak follow the pitch of the roof, pacing the passage between the white rooms with references to the Botticino in the bathroom.
Fitness, study, photography, film, games and music, clothing and bed, depending on the hours of the day, are combined in chaotic harmony. This part of the house is something like our private bubble, where we retreat when it is possible. There is a great view of the rooftops of Milan, a changing city, towards Porta Nuova, and a glimpse of the Madonnina in the distance. The children have invented a hiding place next to the staircase, a den of their own, a bubble in the bubble.” Filippo Taidelli, a transformer who honors the past and designs the future. His empathic design approach is very interesting, capable of opening to discussion and bringing together different habitat needs, and offering us a small digression on the value of therapeutic beauty in which the great-grandson of Portaluppi, ahead of others, has always firmly believed. This is proven by his commitment and involvement in the area of research projects on architecture for healthcare: from the Campus Humanitas University at Pieve Emanuele (MI), already completed, to the MEDTEC Innovation Building, to the new department of medical engineering of Humanitas and the Milan Polytechnic, in progress, a hub that combines therapy, education and technological research as the expression of a new medical frontier.
“In our fragile contemporary world, until today architects and designers were kept outside of these essential, urgent and neglected themes. Almost as if these issues were too serious for their involvement. Instead, there is much to be done,” Taidelli says, “in the direction of humanization, improving emotional comfort in places of care. We need to think about enclosures, spaces, relationships, conscious behaviors, green scenarios. Without overlooking the formal control of technological development, which moves very quickly and has to be foreseen in the design of flexible, fluid but never anonymous spaces. We have to make the emotional side of technology emerge, to make users responsible for their actions. And to make the man-machine interface, if not domestic, at least not so alienating and cold.” So everything can make sense, in the end.
Project FIlippo Taidelli - Photos Andrea Martiradonna