His immense archive, about 44 thousand drawings of original projects, had already donated it to Milan, to be exhibited in a room of the Castle. Everybody’s heritage, his adopted city, his Milan. It is here that, at 92, he left Vittorio Gregotti, for complications from pneumonia. Coronavirus did not spare the great master of Italian architecture, born in the province of Novara in 1927 – the Professor, as many of his students and travel companions still call him. A life dedicated to the “profession of architect”, this is the title of one of his many books, the last one, published last year.
Son of a textile industrialist, after a very young experience in his father’s factory, he had chosen, despite the perplexities of the family, the Faculty of Architecture of the Milan Polytechnic. The summer of ’47 is in Paris, in the study of the Perret brothers, and here he meets artists, philosophers and writers who will shape his idea of architecture. Yes, but a high, theoretical and practical project for transforming society, because “it is the idea of the past and the future that together build a fragment of the truth of the present,” he writes in his book. Back in Milan, he looks for work and teaching in the BBPR studio, and meets his teacher, Ernesto Nathan Rogers, with whom he signed the first room at the Triennale in ’51. Many protagonists of the Modern Movement pass by the BBPR studio, from Walter Gropius to Le Corbusier, from Alvar Aalto to Henry van de Velde. It is with them that the young architect compares himself, towards an international and critical dimension of the project – ordering the complexity of reality, revealing places and giving meaning to a physical environment are the purpose of architecture. Editor of the magazine Nice house, who will direct from 1982 to 1996, opens the first studio with Lodovido Meneghetti and Giotto Stoppino.
In his Novara, his debut as a designer, with the Office Building in 1960. Friend of Enrico Paci and Umberto Eco, he is the only architect to participate in Group 63, the avant-garde movement that seeks dialogue between literature and the new social reality of the economic boom. A revolution for Italian culture, in which the architect participates with curiosity for “Lombard-Piedmontese enlightenment”, as Eco defines it. Becoming a professor in Milan, Gregotti teaches in Palermo, Venice and in many foreign universities. In 1974 he was called to direct the Venice Biennale, where he founded the Architecture Biennale. In the same year he created – with Pierluigi Cerri, Pierluigi Nicolin, Hiromichi Matsui and Bruno Viganò – Gregotti Associati in via Circo and then in the historic via Bandello in Milan, in a former red brick factory.
Vittorio Gregotti in a portrait of a few years ago
© Alberto Cattaneo / Photogram / IPA
The large public commissions arrive, universities throughout Italy and the unfinished ZEN district of Palermo, then the Genoa and Barcelona stadiums, the Centro Cultural de Belém in Lisbon, the RCS headquarters in via Solferino, until the conversion of the former area industrial Bicocca for universities, homes, offices and the Arcimboldi Theater. The last few years are many jobs in China. Urban planner, great designer, author of more than 80 projects worldwide, essayist and critic, twentieth-century intellectual, grumpy, rough and passionate man. Uncompromising. “Those who make the project have reduced themselves to building its image,” he says in a recent interview. We like to remember it even for an extraordinary magazine, Review, of which he was the creator and director from 1979 and 1999: 77 beautiful multidisciplinary monographic issues, each edited by a different author, which become a reference point for the culture of the project, not only in Italy.
The first issue is dedicated to the fences, which will be followed by the design of the gardens, the installations, the Italian graphics, the airships, the aqueducts, the London Underground and many other themes, where architecture becomes an all-round thought, “from spoon to the city ”, to quote his master Rogers.