Pirelli Skyscraper, the symbol of modern Milan
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Pirelli tower

LombardyRegion - Regional Council headquarters

General information

The Pirelli Tower rises up opposite the Central Station. A first-rate example of modernist architecture, designed by the Milanese architect Gio Ponti, it was inaugurated in 1960, when the city was riding on the swell of an economic boom. Since 1978, the building has been the headquarters of the region of Lombardy. Thanks also to this public function, the building, affectionately called “the Pirellone” by the locals, has become a symbol of Milan.

In 1950, Alberto Pirelli entrusted the design of the office tower to Milanese architect Gio Ponti and a large group of experts, including Professor A. Danusso (structural engineer), the architect A. Rosselli, and structural engineers E. Dell’Orto, A. Fornaroli, P. Nervi, G. Valtolina. In 1956, the city watched as the foundation stone was laid, and on April 4, 1960, the skyscraper was inaugurated. For the first time, a city building surpassed in height the Madonna atop the Cathedral, and in those years of a booming economy, its modernity became a symbol and a source of pride for the Milanese. Moreover, its location opposite the Central Station made it the city’s calling card for business travelers and the thousands of immigrants alike who each day arrived by train from the South.

This tower’s futuristic shape, which Gio Ponti described as similar to a luminous prism, and the innovative solutions to construction problems, such as the tapered piers, make it a avant-garde structure. With its 31 floors stretching over 127 meters in height, 70 meters in length and less than 20 in width, it is the world’s highest reinforced concrete skyscraper. Externally, it is clad in small ceramic and glass tiles, while the core is made of, in addition to cement, steel and aluminum.

Built on the area that had held the Brusada, an old tire factory, the tower housed the administrative headquarters of the Pirelli company for 18 years. Since the 1970s, a reclamation process has been underway in Milan, not yet completed: starting from the centermost areas of the city, derelict industrial areas have been transformed into office building and business districts. In 1978, the Pirelli building was sold to the Lombardy region under an agreement signed by Leopoldo Pirelli and the president of the Regional Council Cesare Golfari. Over the next few years, the interior spaces were radically restructured to meet the new needs, and the large data processing department was transformed into the Council Chamber. In 2002, a light aircraft crashed into the twenty-sixth floor of the tower. The tragic event caused the death of two women, attorneys for the Lombardy region, and the pilot. The restoration that followed was completed two years later, and included a memorial to the victims erected on the site of the accident, and the refurbishment of the auditorium below ground level, dedicated to Giorgio Gaber, and the belvedere, dedicated to Enzo Jannacci. These last two spaces are opened to the public for special initiatives, such as exhibitions, open days, and other noteworthy events.

Since completion in 2011 of the new Lombardy Region building, just a few steps away, various offices of the Regional Government have moved there, including the executive offices, leaving the Pirelli tower to continue to function as the official venue for the Regional Legislative Assembly meetings.

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“Architecture is a crystal … closed forms in which all is consumed in the rigor of volumes and of a thought”. These words, by its designer Gio Ponti, encapsulate the essence of this extraordinary building better than any others.

The 31st floor, known as the “Belvedere” (open to the public on designated days of the year and special occasions).

The 26th floor, known as the “Piano della memoria”: the central portion has been left empty in memory of the two people who died when a tourist plane crashed into the building on April 18th, 2002.

The Exhibition hall, the Galvani Hall.

Anecdotes and curiosities

According to local custom, no building in Milan may rise higher than the Madonnina statue on top of the Duomo (approximately 109 meters). To honor this tradition, a smaller gold statue of the Madonnina, a miniature copy of its sister (85 cm against the 4.16 meters of the original statue), was installed on the roof.

Since 2007, the skyscraper has hosted the “Vertical Sprint”, a special climbing contest: 31 floors and 710 steps in record time. The winners reach the top in under 4 minutes.

The particular technique used for the foundation has the skyscraper resting on an enormous cement cube base. The cube draws on deep layers of the subsoil of Milan that are rich in water and allows the building the potential oscillation of 14cm at its vertex on both its sides (Duca D’Aosta and Fabio Filzi). This means that the skyscraper could withstand a shockwave equivalent to winds of 400 kilometers an hour.

The design of the skyscraper was an inspiration for the construction of the historic Pan Am Building (now MetLife Building) in New York.


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