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Milanofiori Residential Complex, Assago, Milan, Italy

Wednesday 31 Aug 2011

A life less ordinary

Milanofiori Residential Complex by OBR Open Building Research S.r.l. in Assago, Milan, Italy
Milanofiori Residential Complex by OBR Open Building Research S.r.l. in Assago, Milan, Italy Milanofiori Residential Complex by OBR Open Building Research S.r.l. in Assago, Milan, Italy Milanofiori Residential Complex by OBR Open Building Research S.r.l. in Assago, Milan, Italy Milanofiori Residential Complex by OBR Open Building Research S.r.l. in Assago, Milan, Italy Milanofiori Residential Complex by OBR Open Building Research S.r.l. in Assago, Milan, Italy Milanofiori Residential Complex by OBR Open Building Research S.r.l. in Assago, Milan, Italy
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Holistic housing design in which landscape works in symbiosis with residents 

The Milanofiori housing complex is characterized by a series of functions (offices, hotels, restaurants, cinemas, leisure and residences) that define together a cluster whose elements appear to follow the characteristics of the surrounding landscape, creating a public park as the extension of the existing forest.

The design seeks the symbiosis between architecture and landscape, so that the synthesis of artificial and natural elements can define the quality of living and the sense of belonging by the inhabitants. The interface between the building and the garden becomes the field where interaction between man and environment takes place.

This interface is defined by the 'C' form of the complex which encompasses the public park, and by the porosity from interior to exterior that characterizes all 107 apartments. The two facades are designed differently: the one facing the street outside is more urban, and the one towards the inner park is more organic. The design of the urban facade stimulates a sense of belonging thanks to the composition of white frames which identify separately the units.

These frames include vertical wooden panels of different widths which can slide across the frames and control the inner light as necessary. The organic facade overlooking the garden features double glazed bioclimatic greenhouses. The co-planarity between the glass of the greenhouse and the glass guardrail covering the string-course creates an effect where the shape of the construction and the background merge and reverse their roles constantly, producing kaleidoscopic effects overlapping the reflection of the public garden outside with the transparency of the private garden inside.

The geometry of the building is shaped by translation of the upper levels in line with positions of optimum solar exposure and by tapering of the external terraces in order to increase introspection among residents. The winter garden has a double value: an environmental value in providing a buffer zone which allows thermal regulation, and an architectural value in allowing extension of the interior living space towards the exterior landscape (and vice versa), permitting different uses from summer to winter.

Through the overlap of different natural layers (the public park, the open terraces and the winter gardens) the project seeks a kind of holism of nature, where various personal interactions of these natural layers create an intensive landscape that is directly and personally customized by each resident. In line with ever changing developments in contemporary living, the porosity of the architecture makes Milanofiori residential complex an evolving organism, in perpetual change, preferring the dynamic exchange between architecture and nature and stimulating the interaction between man and environment.

The Milanofiori project investigates new ways of contemporary living by developing two themes: nomadic and sedentary. Contemporary life brings each of us to live in a house as a place where you come from and where you come back to, in a continuous alternation of time and space. This means that sedentary and nomadic attitudes coexist in our every day living experience.

To express this duality it is not enough to think just in terms of housing types that meet the most varied requirements of all possible users. What is needed instead is a paradigm shift that lies in reversing the direction of the discussion: from the house as an object to the inhabitant as the subject. Living in the garden. Breaking free from the presence of the hypertrophic 'house', the dwelling is thought more as the expression of the site as a whole, rather than a physical place.

This is not simply blurring the distinction between inside / outside, but finding the continuum in which space and time are unified in one entity that cannot be separated. To do this we need to think of an opportunity: the garden. In the garden space and time are unified, they become continuous, recovering - evoking - the essential meaning of living in the sense of 'taking care'.

OBR Open Building Research was established in 2000 with the idea of creating a design network between Genoa, Milan, London and New York, researching new ways of living working within the confluence of architecture and landscape.

2010 European 40 Under 40; Madrid - 2011 Leaf Awards; Residential Building of the Year finalist.


The transparency studied on the project enhances the porosity between inside and outside, extending the outside garden into the apartments and vice versa, becoming also an opportunity for exchange between people, creating effectively a new way of living based on a new community value.

A few months ago, the architects themselves went there for a site visiting and were delighted to see that people living there feel as if they are living in a large family or community. Inhabitants have begun to accrue interest in the social aspects of living and to seek building a solid community, taking care of neighbours.

In this sense it is interesting to notice that the inhabitants have created a Facebook account for the entire 'building-community' and would like to make a film documentary on how the neighbours' lives have been changing thanks to architecture.

Through this design, the very idea of neighbourhood has changed, moving from a civic duty to a pleasant aim to work together. The Milanofiori housing complex has improved life both within the building and in the wider community, highlighting how architecture can have a direct and measurable impact on those who live within it.

The project involves a series of open spaces for social interaction in synergy with the other parts of the cluster. In this sense, the typical user takes a 'life interconnected', with frequent travel even within the same cluster. We try to overcome the concept of 'Unity' (d'Habitation) in favour of a polyvalent system released by the behaviour of the typical nuclear family and the separation of housing and workplace imposed by industrial civilisation, towards new models of mutual relations, trade and transversality.


The relationship with the park is enhanced by an architectural device defined by a set of internal private gardens that characterize the facade of the housing complex overlooking the park.

All apartments are equipped with a hybrid environment with a double task: to blur the line between inside and outside and, simultaneously, to define areas filtering the intimate housing spaces.

Such environments are a buffer zone which also have a high environmental value. During the winter months - thanks to a double glazed window - it creates a greenhouse air chamber with a temperature control function that allows one side to preheat the interiors and the other to dissipate less heat, with benefits in terms of energy saving and emission reduction. During the summer months - opening the window casing - this buffer zone creates an open and shady lodge where the slab projecting above the inner glass creates shadow that reduces exposure to direct sunlight and produce natural ventilation.

This fa├žade system of double windows (outer open joint and inner thermal break) produces a particular dematerialization effect of the building front, merging the mirrored image of the outer common park with the image of the internal private gardens, reviewing the results defined by the artistic research of Dan Graham, working upon transparent and reflective properties of glass through which to create a continuum between internal-external, content-container, object-subject.

Key Facts

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OBR Open Building Research S.r.l.

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Milanofiori Residential Complex


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