Industrial areas can be actors that promote urban transformation in cities. Milan had a strong industrial and economic production, which can be seen today in its large industrial sites.
The area of Bovisa is an ex-industrial area in the north-east region of the city outskirts, close to the new Milano Fiera and future Expo areas. It is also classified as an environmentally contaminated area. The area is well connected through the inter-regional railway system, inside an urban sector known for the presence of mixed urban functions.
Bovisa’s story started at the beginning of 1900, when many cultural activities were located here, making it an important industrial center of Milan. Its industrial district had large and small companies, among which the gasometer settlements were the most important.
A key moment in its history started in the 1970s with the industrial conversion process. During this process, the large manufacturing area of the gasometer became an unused space due to the re-location of the factories farther from the expanding city center. Furthermore, the land became an asset in the urban transformation of this area, which led to several projects proposals.
There were different plans; but so far, none have been implemented. Nevertheless, the transformation that ended up dramatically changing the entire neighbourhood is linked to the choice of Politecnico to open a new branch in another part of the town. There were 30,000 students at the end of the ‘80s, when the University decided to relocate in Milan and in other parts of the region. Bovisa was considered a strategic position due to its accessibility and the large space available.
In 1997, an important agreement among Politecnico, Town Hall, Lombardy Region, and AEM came up with a plan. This considered university functions, a wide green area, sport facilities, a museum, and other cultural sites. A small part of the area was dedicated to housing. There was an international architectural competition won by Ishimoto Architectural Studio. The project arrived to the executive phase; but due to a mistake in the evaluation of the land reclamation cost, the project was dropped.
Another attempt was when Politecnico developed a master plan that tried to promote the redevelopment of the area using new highly specialized and innovative activities. The project foresaw three different main functions: new university branches, the “Youth City,” and “Science & Technology Park.” The master plan intended to give 50% of the space to public functions and 50% to private functions.
The last attempt was in 2008, when a new masterplan by Koolhaas was promoted. They involved this international studio to offer a new vision of gasometer area and to gain a role in the project. The new technology park would have mixed functions: 170,000 square meters for university and 330,000 for private housing. The rest would have been for commercial use and leisure activities. This was a new vision, without operational development.
The area of Bovisa is at present a brutal mix between old and new urban tissue. This provides a cultural gap in the neighborhood due to the change in the built environment.
Should urban transformations consider to follow the historical background of its areas?
Credits: Photographs by Alexandra Serbana and linked to sources. Data linked to sources.