Conceived by the award-winning firm Design International, Milan’s IL CENTRO shopping mall is one of the largest retail projects in Europe, and one of the most inventive. Its spaces use a modern design vocabulary, but always with a classic architectural grammar.

IL CENTRO’s key underlying design concept is the ‘indoor-outdoor street’. This inspired idea allows for many playful references to traditional urban spaces. For example, the mall’s broad thoroughfares are lined with mature trees, like gracious city boulevards. In these ‘streets’, the shop units are treated as stand-alone buildings, each with their own identity. The architect even refers to them as palazzos, recalling the great residences of an Italian Renaissance city. That idea also seems to have inspired the balconies seen here and there, overlooking the street scene.

The layout of the mall guides visitors to large atrium spaces. These light-filled areas serve as piazzas, parks and children’s playgrounds. At the heart of IL CENTRO, the designers have created a market square with a distinctly modern twist. A curving walkway ascends from ground level to a restaurant court on the first floor. This dramatic feature resembles the iconic spiral ramp in New York’s Guggenheim Museum. Here, however, the ramp is lined with fresh-food kiosks rather than works of art.

One of the most ingenious aspects of IL CENTRO’s design is the subtle way in which visitors are encouraged to move through the mall. Your curiosity is constantly stimulated – by unobstructed views of intriguing architectural features, or by different spaces, seen from afar. The experience feels like exploring a vibrant, cosmopolitan city.

About the project
Design International’s vision of ‘indoor-outdoor streets’ was inspired by the finest traditions of European architecture and planning. But the vision has been expressed with the help of modern materials and state-of-the-art fixtures. The glass balustrades in the atrium spaces and on the food-court ramp are a perfect example. To create precisely the effect required, project architect Davide Padoa selected Q-railing’s Easy Glass Slim glass railing system. The decisive factor was the system’s ability to create safe balustrades that consist almost entirely of glass. This was important for the success of the ‘indoor-outdoor street’ concept. In the absence of visual obstructions, visitors would be able to explore the mall with their eyes before doing so with their feet.

During the project, the flexibility offered by Easy Glass Slim also attracted admirers. The Italian company responsible for installation, Faser Srl., was impressed that the system required no special customisation, even for difficult situations. With 1,400 metres of balustrade being installed, challenges inevitably arose, but Easy Glass Slim never failed to provide a solution.

Advanced modern materials feature throughout IL CENTRO. The roof, for example, is constructed from highly sustainable polycarbonate. But in this most surprising of buildings, ‘cutting-edge’ and ‘time-honoured’ always exist side by side. Accordingly, the hi-tech polycarbonate skin is supported by a massive skeleton of timber beams. It is one of the largest wooden structures ever built in Europe. Materials and methods known to the builders of Milan Cathedral are integrated seamlessly with the ultra-modern. And in an echo of this ‘past-meets-present’ aesthetic, the designers chose to cap the Easy Glass Slim balustrades with handrails of light-coloured wood.

For architect Davide Padoa, ‘Drawing IL CENTRO was like painting a town with the habits and tastes of its citizens in mind.’ Given that 15 million people visited IL CENTRO in its first year, it would appear that the citizens approve.


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