Piero Portaluppi, Enrico Agostino Griffini,
Ferdinando Reggiori, Museo Nazionale Scienza e Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci,
Milan, Italy, 1947-53.
The national science and technology museum was inaugurated on 15 February 1953 displaying a prestigious exhibition on Leonardo da Vinci, opened at the end of the celebrations for the fifth centenary of the artist’s birth. The museum is housed in the former Olivetan monastery of San Vittore, which was used as a military hospital during the Napoleonic era, became a military barracks at a later date and was almost completely demolished by bombing in 1943. In 1947, following the initial proposals to open the complex at Città Studi (literally, “city of the studies”), at Fiera Campionaria (the previous name of the trade fair area Fieramilanocity) and at the former Polytechnic, the Municipality of Milan decided to set up the new museum in the monastery and in the area within the block between via San Vittore and via Olona. Guido Ucelli di Nemi, industrial humanist who had already set up a foundation for the museum in 1942, was the promoter and the founder of the institution. Piero Portaluppi, Enrico Agostino Griffini and Ferdinando Reggiori were placed in charge of the museum’s design. The design project maintained the overall shape and internal façades of the ancient convent, which were salvaged and reassembled, while the interior spaces were designed from scratch. Whilst the environments around the two large cloisters – a succession of rooms, galleries and cellars able to accommodate the heavy machines on display – were adapted to the new installations without requiring modifications to the previous volumes, a new building corpus had to be designed on Via San Vittore to accommodate the entrance. Among the proposals put forward, the hypothesis of a new square connected to the parvis of the basilica, which would open out onto the road and on to which the monumental museum entrance would overlook, is worthy of note. However, this project, which was the expression of a complete concept of urban space, was not approved. Further to requests by the Municipality to revise the proposal, Enrico Agostino Griffini left the design group and the work was completed by Piero Portaluppi and Ferdinando Reggiori. The museum’s entrance is accessed from the basilica’s parvis and, from the solutions proposed, a portico with two arched columns was chosen to construct the façade . The museum is the largest of its kind in Italy and holds an abundance of scientific, technological and industrial heritage organised in thematic sections. Of extraordinary interest is the Leonardo da Vinci Gallery, which houses the famous collection of historical models, a collection of machines, tools and architecture created in the early fifties based on the great Renaissance master’s drawings. The museum’s path continues outside to the Rail Transport Building, which retraces the evolution of railway transport, and the Air & Sea Transport Building, which houses a permanent exhibition the “Ebe” training ship, a two-masted schooner-brig. Since 14 August 2005, the S-506 Enrico Toti submarine, gifted by the Italian Navy, can be found next to the Rail Transport Building. In addition to its thematic exhibitions, temporary shows, educational and interactive workshops, research activities, educational paths and programmes for schools are also held at the museum. The museum has a rich technical and scientific library and a new auditorium, a renovation of the original 1954 structure.
Civic Planetarium Ulrico Hoepli,
Milan, Italy, 1929-30.
Designed by the architect Piero Portaluppi and built in less than a year within the public gardens of Porta Venezia, the Planetarium was inaugurated on 20th May 1930. The institution was donated to the city by Ulrico Hoepli, a Swiss publisher who moved to Milan, and who, already by the end of the nineteenth century, was recognised for his numerous technical and scientific publications. The shape of the building, reminiscent of an archaic and severe classicism, and the materials employed, ceppo di Albino and marble from Crevola d’Ossola, make it one of the most original and representative architectural works built in Milan between the two world wars. An architecture that, in its skilful and eccentric juxtaposition of pure shapes and in its contemplation of the past, authentically represents the monumental motive, enhanced by the central plan and the classic atrium and hall sequence. The building is dominated by a large hemispherical dome which is almost 20 m in diameter and coated externally in copper. On the inside of the dome, a planetarium instrument projects images of the constellations and the celestial vault. A continuous silhouette of the City of Milan is engraved around the room, along the entire inside base of the dome, reproducing the Milanese skyline at the beginning of the thirties: the Duomo, the Galleria and many other monumental buildings of the city can be identified, while two icons of Milanese architecture, the Velasca Tower and the Pirelli Tower are not illustrated, since they had yet to be built at the time of the dome’s creation. The planetarium has an overall capacity of 375 seats on sturdy Thonet chairs arranged in a circular and concentric pattern. The chairs, which are for the main part original pieces, are fitted on rotating bases, enabling viewers to observe the projections inside the dome from any point: the effect obtained is that of an illusion show in which spatial references are lost, where the walls give way to the dynamics of the silent movement of the stars. Outside, a short flight of entrance steps lead up to a pronaos with four baseless ionic fluted columns supporting an elegant tympanum and evoking the image and character of a classical temple. The dome, of striking figurative impact, emerges from an octagonal volume that defines the building’s perimeter within the gardens. The idea of a Planetarium in Milan originated after the establishment of the Planetarium of Rome in 1928, the first to be built in Italy. During the construction of the Milanese building, the astronomer Emilio Bianchi, director of the Brera Observatory, collaborated as head scientist, in a sign of continuity that has seen Milan excel in astronomical studies since the eighteenth century. The Planetarium, which is considered to be one of the places of excellence for the dissemination astrophysics and astronomy, has been renovated several times after the second world war. In 1968 the old model II Zeiss optical-mechanical planetarium instrument was replaced with a model IV version, which is still in operation today. In the nineties a multimedia projection system was installed to support the instrument. This system has since been further enhanced, in order to obtain greater versatility at conferences, scientific seminars and in the programme of events.