Location: Milan, Italy
References: Architecture Week, Arch in Form
Project Year: 1958
From the architect. Mixed in with the Gothic Cathedrals, buildings, sculptures and domes of Milan, the Torre Velasca stands out as one of the few modern buildings in the city’s ancient center.
The Torre Velasca, planned to loom over its surrounding structures at a height of nearly 1,000 meters, was to be an important addition to Milan’s skyline. For this reason, it was crucial that the architects, BBPR, find ways to blend the design of the Torre Velasca, completed in 1958, with that of the classic architectural beauties of historic Milan.
The upper third of the building, which protrudes outward from the lower levels, was designed to resemble medieval watchtowers. Such defense towers were used in times of war to protect Italian castles from invasion. By using the Torre Velasca to build upon the ideas of ancient architecture, BBPR was able to connect the modern building to its historic past and keep the design of the new addition from feeling out of place.
The tower’s stone material and supporting struts that add stability to the projecting section not only further its resemblance to Italy’s medieval defense towers, but also mimic some of the Gothic features of its surrounding structures.
By looking at Milan’s skyline, it is clear that BBPR designed the Torre Velasca with its surroundings in mind (especially considering the growing trend toward glass curtain walls in high-rises like this one). However, the design had many important functional purposes as well.
Whereas many newer buildings were constructed along the city’s street fronts, the Torre Velasca was built in the center of its site so as to encourage use of the plaza space.
The tower’s narrow bottom not only allowed for the creation of such plaza space, but also fit with the building’s multifunctional purposes. The narrow spaces of the lower floors held shops, offices and exhibitions, while the more spacious upper stories contained apartments with spectacular views overlooking the city.
In many parts of the city, the creation of office buildings was known to push out residential structures. However, the combination of commercial and residential use in the Torre Velasca was meant to prevent the weakening of city centers that typically occurred when office buildings replaced residential ones.
The importance of functionality was even reflected in the tower’s window arrangement.
On most modern buildings, schemes of windows, doors and materials are repeated over and over again. However, on the Torre Velasca numerous patterns were created using empty walls, open windows and reflective glass surfaces where windows would normally be expected. This allowed the building to play to the varied needs of the many people using it.
Although the Torre Velasca has been criticized for the building’s heavy feeling and for the intricate details that get lost because of it, many people have praised the way in which the tower has managed to connect Milan’s past to its present. Its functionality paired with the architects’ attention to the surrounding environment made the Torre Velasca a seamless, as well as functional addition to the ancient city of Milan.