Not only America or Dubai. Also Italy has its skyscrapers
From amphitheaters to skyscrapers, few people know that Italy was a precursor regarding the modern high-rise constructions, even though its cities are ancient and mostly have low-rise buildings.
Everything started with the international design competition for the Chicago Tribune Tower hosted by the Chicago Tribune newspaper in 1922. Chicago and its architectural school focused on new tall vertical buildings. Many European architects joined this famous competition for the new headquarters of the Chicago Tribune, resulting in this competition having a large global influence at the turn of the 20th century. Among the competitors was the Italian Marcello Piacentini. His project didn’t win the architectural design competition but — upon his return to Italy — it was the cornerstone of the the first Italian skyscraper, which would rise in Brescia in 1932.
It was under the Fascist regime that the interest for this architectural subject would be developed, thanks to the genius of Marcello Piacentini and the will of Benito Mussolini to give a new face to many historical city centers, considering safety and propaganda. So in just two years — between 1930 and 1932 — the Torrione INA in Brescia was built, housing the National Insurance Institute. It was the first skyscraper ever in Italy, and, above all, the tallest concrete high-rise building in Europe. Piacentini’s project was inspired by the Italian medieval towers, differentiating itself from the American skyscrapers and becoming the model for the original Italian way to the skies, which within a few years would raise up other skyscrapers across northern Italy.
Turin, Milan, Genoa: skyscrapers in the border triangle
Two years after the Torrione INA in Brescia, a 19-story skyscraper was built and opened in Turin, becoming the newest and tallest high rise building in Italy and the first ever made with a welded metal structural frame.We are talking about the Torre Littoria, a magnificent example of Italian rationalist architecture. Already from its name this tower was designed to house the National Fascist party headquarters, but this never ended up happening. The skyscraper was then owned by Reale Mutua insurance company. In 1937 it was Milan’s turn with the Torre Snia Viscosa, which was the first skyscraper of the city: 15 floors, a great chromatic effect and two charming terraces overlooking Via Monte Napoleone and Via Bagutta.
The city of Genoa, again with architect Marcello Piacentini, would achieve an important record in 1940, when Torre Piacentini was finished and opened. At the time it was the tallest concrete skyscraper in Europe until 1952 and the first ever on this side of the ocean to reach over 100 meters in height. What better place than the native city of Christopher Columbus to challenge America?
But then, unfortunately the Second World War came and Italy would have to wait for the Marshall Plan to resume building its skyscrapers. Indeed, thanks to the American help, the economic boom of the ’50s and the advent of new high rise buildings was possible. Milan was the Italian city most involved in this process, and between 1950 and 1955 the Torre Breda was built. At 116 meters high, it was the first skyscraper in the city higher than the Madonnina on the roof of the Duomo (even breaking a centuries-old city law). For four year it was also the tallest building in Italy, until a 32-story skyscraper in Cesenatico was erected in 1958, a touristic port town on the Adriatic coast, near Rimini.
First place returned to Milan two years later in 1960 with the creation of the Pirelli Tower, commissioned by the popular Italian tire company, Pirelli, and designed by architects Giò Ponti and Pier Luigi Nervi. The Pirelli Tower (nicknamed Pirellone by the Milanese), with its 127 meters and elegant shape soon became a symbol of the city and the tallest reinforced concrete skyscraper in the European Union until 1966. However, in Italy the Pirelli Tower would remain the tallest building of the country until 1995. Tragically, in April 2002, it was involved in a plane crash, which initially made people think it was an echo of the terrorist act which occurred overseas on September 11, 2001.
The business center of Naples and the new skyline of Milan
Starting in 1995, Naples had the tallest Italian skyscraper for 15 years, between the volcano and the sea, creating a breathtaking city skyline. The project of the Naples business center dates back to the mid-1960’s, with the intention of reducing traffic congestion in the city center and vitalizing an abandoned industrial area. The Telecom Italia tower, housing the Italian telecommunications company, is the giant of this complex, 129 meters tall. From 1995 to 2010 it held the record of the Italian highest building, outdone once again by Milan when the Palazzo Lombardia was completed. This modern and attractive skyscraper, 161 meters tall and built with reinforced concrete, steel and glass, houses the seat of the Lombardy regional government. Every Sunday, it offers tourists and onlookers the opportunity to reach the top floor, enjoying a striking view of Milan and the Mount Rosa.
Since 2012, instead, the supremacy of the Italian sky is held by the Unicredit Tower, designed by the late Argentinian architect César Pelli. The skyscraper is the headquarter of Unicredit global banking, framed by the modern and beautiful Gae Aulenti square. It soon became one of the new symbols of Milan, characterized by its 80-meter high steel spire on the roof, evoking the magnificent old spires of the Duomo. The Unicredit Tower, including the spire, is 231 meters high. Right there, in the new skyline of Milan, another pair of skyscrapers stands out: the well-known towers of Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest), designed by Boeri Architects and named the “Best Tall Building Worldwide” by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat for 2014-2015.
Lastly, some kilometers westwards took on a life with the new Milanese residential and business district called Citylife. This futuristic project was designed by the “archistar” Zara Hadid, who recently passed away, Arada Isozaki and Daniel Libeskind. Each of them was also the designer of the original three towers at the heart of Citylife, serving as headquarters of prestigious multinational companies such as Allianz, Generali and PwC.
In conclusion, Italy is not America or the UAE, but in the sky it always clipped pages of history worthy of being studied.