The MUDEC (56, Via Tortona), also known as the Museum of Cultures, is just the latest of a series of attractions to spring up in Tortona-Solari, a fascinating district which has evolved from an industrial area on the edge of Milan to a hub of creativity and experimentation. The museum, whose purpose is to bear witness to the diversity of world cultures, features temporary exhibitions and will also house a permanent collection. It occupies an area of 170,000 square feet on the site of a former steelworks, which once belonged to the Ansaldo Group. (The area as a whole measures some 700,000 square feet and has been categorized as industrial archaeology). Designed by top British architect David Chipperfield, the building consists of a series of angular spaces lined with zinc, with a crystal structure bringing the design together.
The MUDEC is one of Milan’s icons to celebrate at a time when the Expo is expected to draw millions of visitors from all over the world. It is also a symbol of the Tortona-Solari district which, was little known 20 years ago and is now one of the most interesting places to visit in the city. For a number of years, the area, which lies behind Porta Genova Station between two parallel streets, Via Tortona and Via Savona, has been undergoing a process of restoration. Many of its old industrial structures have been converted into offices, showrooms, photography studios, hotels, and exhibition spaces.
If you want to fully enjoy the area, start at the back of Porta Genova Station. Cross the iron bridge over the railway and you will come out onto Via Tortona itself. Don’t be surprised if you bump into groups of models on the way. Superstudio 13, the renowned studio set up in 1983 by publisher Flavio Lucchini, is found at No. 13 on Via Forcella, one of the first roads off Via Tortona. Lucchini realized that the old Porta Genova locomotive warehouse would make an ideal location for the photography studio he needed for fashion shoots at his new publishing house. Today there are 13 studios, all still used by the world’s best art directors. A few hundred meters further down the road at No. 27, is its sister studio, Superstudio Più, set up in premises formerly owned by General Electric. It now has a different purpose: It houses temporary and permanent showrooms, and is seen as an institution in the event-management industry.
Another stunning conversation lies on the corner of Via Tortona and Via Bergognone. The old Post Office buildings have been adopted as the headquarters of Deloitte, a management consultancy firm. Four separate buildings around a central square form a work space for 1,300 people. The conversion project was designed by Mario Cucinella Architects: They chose glass for the building on Via Bergognone and shades of ocher and red for the entrance on Via Tortona.
If you walk up Via Bergognone, be sure to go as far as No. 59 to Teatro Armani. It represents the first example of industrial architecture being re-purposed for artistic use. It is housed in 34,000 square feet of the 120,000 square feet once occupied by the old Nestlé factory. The venue of choice for fashion shows and other events organized by Giorgio Armani, the building is the work of Japanese architect Tadao Ando, who, like Armani himself, is known for his minimalist approach. Here he decided to make use of the three elements he feels most comfortable with: concrete, water, and light.
And for a really special trip, step inside another of these conversions known as the Ansaldo Workshops. They are huge warehouses that remain cold in winter and hot in summer. This is where all the costumes and props for shows at the Teatro alla Scala are made. You’ll need to book a place on the official tour, but it’s an opportunity that’s not to be missed!