By Ron Bernthal
In early 2021 COIMA SGR, Italy’s leading independent company in the asset management of real estate investment funds on behalf of institutional investors in Italy, announced that the architectural firms of Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+r) and Stefano Boeri Architetti won the international architectural competition for the Pirelli 39 project. More than 70 groups took part in the international competition with359 architecture, landscape / urban design and engineering firms representing 15 countries.
Wedged between Central Station and the Scalo Farini railyard, Pirelli 39 is home to an existing tower decommissioned by Milan in 2015 over the building’s unsuitability for modern uses and lack of seismic protection. The surrounding site is also in need of environmental remediation. Once complete, Pirelli 39 will join a larger collection of parcels making up the newly reinvigorated Porta Nuova Gioia area, which aims to better integrate the Porta Nuova business district with the city’s center.
Pirreli 39 provides an opportunity to develop a new model of mixed-use development and sustainable urban growth as the new project combines the adaptive reuse of heritage buildings with environmentally responsible new construction, and a vibrant ‘living’ cultural destination devoted to the art and science of plants.
While the retrofit of the existing office building will reskin it from a clunky International-style office block to a more typical glass-enclosed tower, the real star of the Pirelli 39 project is the new residential tower planned for next door, where each will jut out to a heavily planted terrace. Already it is being called the “skyscraper forest.”
Another, earlier residential building project in Milan, about an eight minute walk from the Pirelli 39 project, also used planted terrances when it opened in 2014. Bosco Verticale are two residential towers within Milan’s Porta Nuova area, one of the biggest urban redevelopment projects in Europe. The building is placed in Porta Nuova Isola, an area which was historically dedicated to light industrial and craft activities.
That project created a new standard for sustainable housing to contrast Milan’s increasing pollution threat. As a new model for urban regeneration, the design creates a biological habitat that includes a total of 900 trees between nine-feet and 18-feet in height, planted on the terraces up to the 27th floor, along with 5,000 shrubs and 11,000 floral plants. The vast amount of greenery on the building encourages the production of energy. The plants produce oxygen and humidity and absorb CO2 and dust particles, thus improving the surrounding environment.
The new Pirelli 39 residential building will be adapted to meet the current standards of tower spaces in terms of innovation and sustainability. The renovation will maintain the building’s original character, while updating the structure to maximize efficiency. Most interestingly, in addition to the terrace plantings, the project will provide a biodiverse greenhouse space dedicated to providing an immersive, educational, interactive and innovative experience of various plant species, and will act as an extension of the neighboring Biblioteca degli Alberi Park.
“Our studio is thrilled to have this opportunity to make a meaningful architectural contribution to the city of Milan, our first project in Italy,” said Elizabeth Diller, partner at Diller Scofidio + Renfro. “As much of our work focuses on the future of cities, the Pirelli 39 project presents a great opportunity to develop a new model of mixed-use development and sustainable urban growth. The project combines the adaptive reuse of heritage buildings with environmentally responsible new construction, and a vibrant ‘living’ cultural destination devoted to the art and science of plants.”
The 18,000 square-feet of vegetation, distributed across multiple floors, will express the changing colors of the seasons through flora and fauna that will also absorb 14 tons of CO2 and produce 9 tons of oxygen per year, the equalivent output of a 107,000-acre forest.
And with 29,000 square-feet of photovoltaic panels, the tower will be able to self-produce 65% of its energy needs. The building includes a wooden structure that will decrease its carbon footprint, including 64,000-cubic feet of wood floors that will save up to 3,600 tons of carbon dioxide in the construction phases.
The Pirelli 39 redevelopment project is part of the regeneration process of the wider area that started with the redevelopment of Gioia 22 and will be completed in the coming years with the development of Pirelli 35 and Gioia 20.
“This project will reinvigorate the iconic former Pirellino building, creating a new tower that mixes architecture and nature to create a green space that is open to the whole city,” said Stefano Boeri, founder of Stefano Boeri Architetti. “In such a difficult period, this project relaunches the vision of a forward-looking Milan and bravely faces the great challenges of the climate crisis.”