The statue of the "Madonnina", placed on the highest spire of the Duomo at 108.50 metres, is considered the symbol of the city of Milan. Made by sculptor Giuseppe Perego and goldsmith Giuseppe Bini, it has dominated and protected the city from what was once its highest point since 1774. From the eighteenth century to 2010, the primacy of "Milan's highest peak" changed only twice, in the 1950s, with the Breda Tower and the Pirelli Skyscraper.
Since 2010 it has changed three more times: with the Palazzo Lombardia (2010), the UniCredit Tower (2012) and the Allianz Tower (2015), which currently holds the record as the city's tallest skyscraper at 242 metres (209 metres plus the antenna, which "steals" a few dozen metres).
At 108.5 metres high, the Madonnina is the boundary that separates simple towers from skyscrapers: today we find 16 structures taller than the Duomo. Of these, half were built in recent years. If Torre Breda and the Pirelli Skyscraper are two of the tall buildings that tell the story of the economic and demographic boom of the Second World War, those erected since 2010 indicate the beginning of a new phase of renewal, modernisation and urban expansion.
The city's vertical growth is a spatial metaphor for the changes, ambitions and energies of a city that in recent years "Before Covid" seemed to never want to stop. Milan is increasingly confident of its centrality and its ability to be a protagonist in international relations and interconnections.
In addition to the aforementioned construction of several new skyscrapers in recent times, there is another urban fact that is significant in recounting the soul of the city: on 5 May 2012, the Art Workers collective illuminated the Torre GalFa – a skyscraper built in 1959 and abandoned for years – with blue light and transformed it for a few days into the beating heart of Milan's underground culture.
Torre GalFa unites the two phases we have described: that of the 1950s and from 2010 until the arrival of the pandemic. The first skyscraper with a curtain wall in Italy, the GalFa tower has become a new and different symbol of progress, demonstrating that, in Milan, a skyscraper is not just a question of euros per square metre, but is the result of a desire to look upwards.
Since 2010, the new awareness of the possibility of a 'Vertical Milan' has generated a great – unprecedented – debate both locally and nationally.
That same year saw the birth of the international conference Tall Buildings, which recently held its tenth edition at the Triennale Milano. How the design and construction philosophy will change, the relationship between tall buildings and the existing city, how to develop wide-ranging urban solutions: these are some of the topics addressed annually by the conference.
Milano Verticale is also the title of a very recent publication by the Foundation of the Order of Architects of the Province of Milan, with critical contributions by Fulvio Irace and Jacques Herzog. The book deals with the theme of the high city in relation to the great challenges of the contemporary city, such as the emergence of the environmental issue, attention to urban quality, and the search for a different relationship between the natural and built contexts.
How will Milan develop in the coming decades? For the time being, the city's race to sky does not seem to be stopping. The debate will therefore have to be as plural, complex and critical as possible. As always, Domus is available as a platform for discussion.