These days, Milan’s Arch Week puts the focus on the suburbs. In particular, it asks what we can learn from these marginal areas and addresses the topic through a series of talks, round tables and workshops spread throughout the territory, involving designers and architects from all over the world. From June 2 to 11, 2023, the Lombard capital will go on a quest to discover those border areas that are often silenced but are part of an urban and social discourse that is indispensable for a city’s growth. So many were the failures, implemented especially since the 1960s and 1970s, when population growth and migration from the south led to an expansion of the city of Milan. Today, in this wake of “Around Peripheries,” we want to tell you about one of Milan’s urban and architectural success stories, a happy story just like its name. It is the satellite district San Felice, included between the municipalities of Segrate, Pioltello and Peschiera Borromeo, and designed by the genius minds of architects Vico Magistretti and Luigi Caccia Dominioni.
It must be said that much of its success is due to its original purpose. San Felice was in fact conceived to be an oasis of peace away from the chaos of the center, intended for the city’s middle class seeking tranquility. It should be noted that the residents of the neighborhood were chosen. Fifty thousand people received a letter of invitation to live in San Felice, and only those who belonged to this “élite” were actually allowed to buy. In the end, 7 thousand people, including intellectuals, artists and men of culture bought their homes in what today we can call an upper-class utopian-architectural project.
Like many of these “satellite” neighborhoods, the rule of self-sufficiency applies here. The neighborhood was, and still is, equipped with all the services needed by its inhabitants, including schools, stores, restaurants, bars, and an abundance of parks and green areas. In fact, much of the campaign focused precisely on the concept of escaping the concrete and city smog that invaded 1970s Milan. One of the flyers featured two children playing on asphalt, and the slogan read “Mommy, what is a meadow?” Intended to encourage, especially families, to move to this green oasis on the outskirts of Milan.
The whole complex was masterfully designed with a happy community in mind. Another slogan read “Walt Disney didn’t create it.” Indeed, from the models and sketches, one can see a sinuous design, in sharp contrast to the Milanese rigidity, and a strong focus on the aspect of togetherness and community. Each housing complex, including towers, condominiums and single-family cottages, is easily connected to the others and to services through pedestrian paths interspersed with large lawns, called green gulfs, thus allowing fluidity in movement and ensuring a sense of security.
Today Milan San Felice is still active and appears as if crystallized in time, with the facades and interiors still original, capable of taking visitors into the past. In recent months this neighborhood, which is actually little known by the Milanese themselves, has been in the spotlight thanks to the release of the huge book Golfi verdi e parquet Panga Panga edited by Elisa Di Nofa and Francesco Paleari. From the wonderful photographs, what immediately stands out are the interiors, carefully curated and designed especially for San Felice. From the beautiful design pieces, including the Lyndon chandeliers designed by Magistretti in lilac to the chairs by Cassina, or the custom-made kitchens in “Caccia red.”
In the third part of the book, however, it is interesting to read the testimonies of the residents who moved to San Felice in the 1970s, from which their enthusiasm and visionary spirit emerges. They were able to see the architects’ utopia and embrace the idea, to change their lives and be Milanese citizens but in the midst of greenery.
Credits Francesco Paleari
Golfi verdi e parquet Panga Panga, curato da Elisa Di Nofa e Francesco Paleari