The MUDEC started as an operation of archaeological recovery in one of the most lively districts of Milan, the Tortona area. The project for the Museum of Cultures has it origins in the 1990s when the Municipality of Milan acquired the former industrial area of Ansaldo to refurbish it for cultural activities. The disused factories, which are true monuments of industrial archaeology, have been transformed into workshops, studies and new creative spaces.
In this scenario, the municipality of Milan organized an international design competition for a multidisciplinary hub dedicated to the various testimonies and cultures of the world, an exhibition site for the Civic Ethnographic Collections. The long story of this museum began 15 years ago, when David Chipperfield won this competition, whose winning proposal finally has opened on March 27. Two exhibitions, dedicated to non-European art and culture, will inaugurate the space: “Mondi a Milano” revealing the relationship between this city and non European cultures; as well as “Africa, the land of spirits,” which is dedicated to African art from the Middle Ages to today. The opening of the museum finishes a controversial story involving David Chipperfield protesting over differences from the original plan to the municipality of Milan, owner of the building that hosts the museum.
A visitor to the Museum of Cultures can visit great international shows proposed via diverse artistic languages, get to know the ethno-anthropological heritage of the collections of the Municipality of Milan which are made up of more than 7000 works of art, objects, textiles and musical instruments from every continent, or take part in a schedule of events and initiatives curated by the international communities locally present.
The very architecture of the building mirrors the many spirits that dwell in the MUDEC. Seen from the courtyard, the museum building is formed by a group of boxes, clad in zinc-titanium, resembling the appearance of the former manufacturing plants. Such boxes now house the exhibition galleries and various public services.
The MUDEC sets itself apart by its central hall in a free and organic shape which generates an internal courtyard with a characteristic “flower” shape, a covered piazza -a meeting place between cultures and communities. Within the building various spaces are laid out that offer the visitor and the city many cultural proposals and services, spread over 17,000 sq. meters. The ground floor is devoted to welcoming; it has a bistrot, a design store, ticket office, wardrobe, restoration workshop and storerooms for single visitors and small groups. The exhibition area of the Museum, located on the first floor, is set around a large covered central piazza and hosts the works from the permanent collection. This space is surrounded by the auditorium, a theatre that can hold up to three hundred visitors, dedicated to performances and visual arts.
The building is substantially true to the initial project’s intention of lightness versus the high density of the existing industrial buildings, through the creation of the organic central body. In opposition to the surrounding buildings, the outside boundary has no openings. Its central body is a fully glazed atrium characterized for its wavy shape, an attempt to recover the concept of a covered square, around which exhibition halls will open with changeable flexiblity. The volume, built in frosted glass with parabolic surfaces, will act as a lantern for the city in the evening hours.
Surrounded by buildings from different periods and obliged to work without a prior urban study planning, the architecture plays on introspection, by filtering the gaze of the viewer through the contrast between the lines and curves, the former to protect the latter, recalling the theme of communication by introspection.
From the outside, the structure can be read as an array of square bodies entirely covered in zinc-titanium -as a sign of respect for the industrial context of Ansaldo- resembling the appearance of the former manufacturing plants. These volumes hold the exhibition galleries and various public services. The angular and rigid boundariesof these zinc boxes protect the heart of the Museum, which seems to light up with bright lines that define the structure of the opaline-glass atrium.
This covered piazza introduces the different areas of the museum, organized in clusters of rectangular rooms adjacent one to one another in hierarchical order, designed to give the possibility to qualify them with different atmospheres and accommodate the rotation of the collections in the museum while maintaining an idea of spatial continuity.
The steel structure of the large central “lantern” and the façades were made by Stahlbau Pichler, following a design which was, in production terms, as clean as visually complex. The lantern is formed by two layers of translucent materials. The exterior curtain wall is made of steel sections and external prepainted aluminum. The glazing consists of double layered glass with a PVB interlayer and an inner panel to absorbe heat. The flooring grid has a white pre-painted 44×44 steel mesh, 25/10 mm tall and 2 mm thick, painted in white; its horizontal joints with silicone sealing. The steel structure behind is made by white painted steel columns, in order to stiffen the steel structure.
On the ground floor, the ceiling and reinforced concrete surfaces recall the atmosphere of Ansaldo. The white-painted rooms let light in the first exhibition floor. The flooring is made of dark gray basalt stone from the Etna. The ground floor’s dark colour emphasizes the lightness of upper level. Two underground floors are devoted to parking. On the top floor, the bar and restaurant are also glazed and therefore full of light. The galleries are rectangular-shaped, built with in-situ concrete, laid on a slab supported by 80 cm-diameter columns.
Architect: David Chipperfield Architects: David Chipperfield Giuseppe Zampieri, Cristiano Billia, Oliver Ulmer; Responsabili di Progetto: C. Billia, G. Sirica, O. Ulmer; Architetti di contatto: PiùArch (concorso), F&P Architetti; Consulente per l’architettura: Alberto Izzo & Partners
Lighting: Ove Arup & Partners, Mario Nanni Progettista
Structure and façade: Stahlbau Pichler
Cronologia: 1999-2000 concorso; 2001-2007 progettazione; 2008-2013 realizzazione
Client: Comune di Milano – Direzione settore Musei
Area: 17000 sq.m.