Milan’s Evolving Skyline

Skyscraper and tram

There’s a cool new exhibit focusing on Milan’s modern architecture and changing cityscape over the past 100 years: Grattanuvole: un secolo di grattacieli a Milano. Instead of using the typical word for skyscrapers, grattacieli, a similar word, grattanuvole, was used for the title. As a bit of a language nerd, I did some research to find out why. More info on the exhibit itself is below, if you’re more into architecture and not the linguistic aspects!

Have you ever thought about what the word skyscraper really means? The two parts of the compound word have nothing to do with the final meaning, but it is a pretty poetic description of what these modern, tall buildings do. And what about the Italian translation? As so often happened when learning a foreign language, I only started thinking about the different elements of the word skyscraper when I learned the Italian equivalent.

The Italian word for skyscraper is a very literal translation of the two parts of the English word: grattacielo. But what does grattanuvole, the title of the architecture exhibit, mean? This word was initially used more often in Italian to refer to modern towers and it was actually even more popular than grattacielo between 1903 and 1911 (for etymology nerds, see the Ngram Viewer chart from Google below). Grattanuvole translates literally as cloudscraper. Which might be appropriate in a city like Milan that is famous for its foggy winter mornings.

Lamp with skyscraper in the backgroundSo how has Milan’s skyline changed over the past century? Like lots of other Italian cities, the city has tended to hold on to traditional architecture and was relatively slow in adopting new styles such as skyscrapers. But with recent projects such as the Porta Nuova area at Piazza Gae Aulenti and CityLife, which is still in the works, Milano is starting to look more like a modern city with more than one skyscraper towering over the horizon.

If you’re interested in learning more about the past, present and future of Milan’s architecture through photos, definitely check out Grattanuvole, un secolo di grattacieli a Milano. The exhibit features photographs of 75 important buildings that have been constructed over the past century. It’s located at Fondazione Riccardo Catella in the Isola neighborhood (near the Gioia subway stop on the green line).

Fondazione Riccardo Catella, in collaboration with Politecnico di Milano
Via G. De Castillia 28
7 November to 6 December 2014
Mondays-Fridays: 10:00am-6:00pm, Saturdays: 10:00am-1:00pm, 2:00-5:00pm
Free admission

Grattacieli and grattanuvole in Italian books from 1800 to 2008
https://books.google.com/ngrams/interactive_chart?content=grattanuvole%2Cgrattacieli&year_start=1900&year_end=2008&corpus=22&smoothing=1&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2Cgrattanuvole%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Cgrattacieli%3B%2Cc0

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