Disegno #10

Alessandro Mendini: Memories of Milan


19 February 2019

In spring 2016, Disegno invited a selection of Milan-based designers and architects to share their memories of Milan.

Amongst those who responded to this brief was Alessandro Mendini, the great Radical designer and architect, who sadly passed away yesterday.

Mendini was born in Milan and spent his life working there. The city was the place from which Mendini designed his greatest works and where his practice flourished.

To mark Mendini's life and achievements, we are delighted to republish his tribute to Milan – the city he credited with allowing his prodigal imagination to take wing.

I was born in Milan, have lived here for 84 years, and I have never wanted to change cities. Milan is sort of ugly, sort of small, sort of unfriendly, sort of violent. Yet it contains the mysterious humus that has allowed all my imagination to grow, something I really would not find anywhere else. It is a mixture of the cold poetry of the streets, the cultural traditions, my subconscious, 20th-century painters, the city's partly frozen architectural history, its great and historic designers, and glorious architecture magazines.

I am there inside all of that and live inside it, sometimes comfortably and sometimes uncomfortably. I frequent but a few people; I stay home at night; the official society of the bourgeois is not nice and it makes me timid. I do frequent an imaginary Milan that comes to me in my dreams at night. I walk in streets that do not exist, I enter phantom churches, buy bread in unknown, surreal shops, find objects, bump into friendly people, and all this might happen as I remain sat on my comfy sofa, reading novels by faraway authors. I am like those animals that can only survive in a certain microclimate, for example in the muted darkness of a cavern, and if they go out in the light they don't survive. The Milanese Designer is an endangered species indeed. There is another curious fact: as an architect I have practically never built a thing in Milan. It has never happened that I woke up in the morning and went to a construction site of mine by foot or by tram. My work is always far away; I mean extremely far away.

One memory that coincides with five years of my life is this: a long time ago, when I was the editor-in-chief of Domus magazine, I travelled to the editorial office every day, located in the historical, famous seat of the publishing house. The headquarters were romantic and outside Milan, toward the foggy flatland south of the city, close to the grassy rice fields. Exiting Milan every day, a 30-minute drive by automobile, I disengaged mentally from the city and spent that whole time in an abstract mental space and in a physical agricultural space: a bubble of decompression. We used to eat around there in countryside trattorie; sometimes they made fried frogs' legs. In this isolated place, full and rich with the stories of the legendary Casabella and Domus magazines, I became acquainted with the most famous architects and hundreds of young designers, who came to visit the editorial office as if on a pilgrimage. And during the round trip by automobile, one hour of classical music per day.