“Modern” mash-up

It’s easy to relate to the antiquity in Milan. The “old” in Italy is what we see in romantic films; it’s what we think of when we think of Rome. When we imagine ourselves running down Italian city streets, they are narrow and crooked and cobbled, flanked by ochre, water-stained walls which have seen the centuries come and go. We play hide-and-seek behind fluted columns and zaftig goddesses carved out of marble. This stuff, the ancient and the ornate, is undeniably beautiful. I myself never grow tired of it. But there is much more to Milan.

Milan is a mish-mash of architectural styles. It’s taken me years to get used to it, for it’s the relatively “modern” in the Milanese verneer that feels foreign to me, not the old. In the United States, modern tends to feel “new,” clean and relatively functional. In Milan, “modern”—most anything built after World War II—feels funky.

Tile was used excessively to cover the exterior of buildings. Modern materials re-make arches. And curves and odd angles pop up everywhere you look. You won’t find the aggressive, exciting geometry of recent Dutch residential architecture; you’ll see something more inspired by, say, Oscar Niemeyer, though not taken to that extreme. Part George Jetson. Part Lego. Part di Chirico.

I used to see many of these buildings as unfortunate eye-sores. Now I let my eye play with them. I imagine them newly constructed, clean, with all their tiles and panes of glass in place. I imagine their whimsical balconies un-sullied by time, dirty laundry or air conditioning units. They’ve grown on me. I appreciate their attempt at playfulness, even if, in the end, the older buildings seem to be weathering the passage of time with greater resilience.

Final note: I do love—without reservation or qualification—the Triennale contemporary art museum pictured above from behind. The bird sculpture you see, is in fact, part of a larger installation by Giorgio de Chirico entitled “I bagni misteriosi.”

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