In Milan, the renovation of an apartment in the historic Torre Breda expounds on the genius loci, applying geometric clarity and nimble contrasts of materials and colors of an age-old tradition to find new qualities for the contemporary habitat

At the time of its construction, it was hailed as the world’s tallest skyscraper in reinforced concrete (116.25 meters, 31 floors), with innovative physical plant and an advanced mixed-use typology that called for internal shared services like a bank, a pharmacy, a café, a newsstand, and a pneumatic system connected to the post office. We’re talking about Torre Breda, Milan’s first skyscraper, opened in 1954 and designed by the brothers Eugenio and Ermenegildo Soncini with Luigi Mattioni, at the intersection of Viale Tunisia and Via Pisani (the monumental street connecting the Central Station to Piazza della Repubblica). This was the location of the large private apartment (330 square meters) seen on these pages.

New dimensions, purities, colors

It has been redesigned by Studio Carlo Donati in 2021, introducing forceful elements of contemporary style in a context with a vivid Fifties identity, in a creative dialectic face-off. The clear lines, graphic signs, geometric and chromatic fields typical of the architecture of the day have encountered other dimensions, purities and hues that correspond to a different pace of life, a different connotation of domesticity. In the background, we can still sense the collective memory of the marvelous 1950s, associated with the postwar rebound – during which many companies with an artisan tradition become industrial firms, leading to the birth of industrial design in a spirit of rationalism. The city saw the literal rise of an urban lifestyle, with the first towers that symbolized the modernization of Milan, from the Pirelli skyscraper by Gio Ponti (1955-58) to the Torre Velasca by BBPR (1955-57), all the way to the Torre Galfa (1956-59) by Melchiorre Bega.

Spatial continuity

In the foreground, what emerges is the pursuit of habitat quality triggered by flexibility of use, spatial and visual continuity, luminous spaces, sophisticated colors, and the presence of greenery, as key terms of a new design approach. With rigorous composition and extreme attention to detail, the layout developed by Studio Donati is organized around two axes that connect the central island of the living area – the ‘public’ core of the house – with the kitchen and the studio-TV room at the sides. Perpendicular to the entrance, the designers have organized a long perspective that constructs an open, mutable type of livability, structured on the basis of the necessities of privacy, through full-height sliding glass doors: filter surfaces, permeable to view, on frames of wax-treated iron, and concluding the views into the two spaces flanking the living area with two ‘jungle’ greenhouses.

A surprising original floor

This was the first design step. Then, during the construction – as the architect Carlo Donati explains – “in the entrance zone we found a surprising original floor in terrazzo, with circular elements and the hues and shapes belonging to the 1950s. Thanks to careful restoration, it has become a fundamental part of the project, also echoed in the circular forms seen in the new lighting inserted in the suspended ceilings. This theme stimulated the choice of multicolored material surfaces for other rooms in the house. The idea of making the floor the protagonist of the narration has led, for example, to the decorative pattern in the dining area made with cementine tiles, using three-dimensional geometric motifs that were much in vogue in the 1950s and 1960s, standing out against a neutral resin base. They embody the two three-tone effects that recur in the domestic landscape: white-black-green; white-black-mustard.”

A ring of waxed black iron

As an evolution of this guiding palette that assigns high expressive value to color, several walls of the entrance, living area and master bedroom have been treated as fern green chromatic fields, in restful tones inspired by the plants in the two lateral greenhouses, constantly visible from the living room. The custom kitchen has a retro-industrial look, with an accessorized central island in green lacquer, set into a ring of waxed black iron on which to suspend the double-face white hanging cabinets. Waxed iron is a constant presence in the residence, returning in the frameworks of the custom furnishings, from the bathrooms to the sideboards, together with nitro-finish walnut and refined paneling in ivory grosgrain wood.

Design, art, modern vintage

These are all explicit tributes to the Fifties, like the selected furnishings, which include icons of design history, balanced with modern vintage items and works by artists like Velasco, Pignatelli and Garau. Without overlooking Marco Petrus, who has made the doors of the entrance sideboard with explicit reference to his recent cycle of paintings Matrici, a translation of his own personal interpretation of the skyscraper: an abstraction of pure geometric and chromatic forms. Elective assonance.

Project Carlo Donati Studio -Photos Franco Chimenti