Fondazione Luigi Rovati / Mario Cucinella Architects

Archdaily_Text description provided by the architects.The seven-year project for the Fondazione Luigi Rovati marks the completion of the renovation and remodeling of Milan’s 19th Century Palazzo Bocconi-Rizzoli-Carraro by Mario Cucinella Architects. The wholly new underground galleries of the Foundation’s Etruscan collection are at the core of this innovative addition to the city’s cultural and civic life at 52 Corso Venezia. In addition to the Etruscan galleries, the Fondazione Luigi Rovati’s art museum houses two floors of exhibition space, conservation facilities, an archive, a study room connected with the Luigi Rovati Foundation Library in Monza, and event rooms, a bookshop, a café as well as a restaurant on its top floor.

Two hundred highlights from the Foundation’s collection of ancient Etruscan artifacts are displayed in custom-made cases, designed by Mario Cucinella Architects, within the limestone-lined galleries of the otherworldly spaces located in the “Hypogeum Floor” directly beneath the palazzo. On display are cinerary urns, vases, jewelry, and bronzes including the celebrated Cernuschi Warrior, a votive warrior god dating from the late-6th century to early-5th century BC. Works by contemporary artists – like Alberto Giacometti, Pablo Picasso, Arturo Martini, Lucio Fontana, and William Kentridge are shown alongside artifacts created between two and three thousand years ago. 

Comprising three circular and one elliptical domed “caverns”, the Hypogeum Floor’s form and materiality are rooted in those of the Etruscan tombs of Cerveteri (in modern-day Lazio) and shaped, too, by the physical characteristics of the quarries of Firenzuola, the Tuscan source of the blue-grey pietra forte fiorentina limestone inset with sparkling mica flakes that arranged in overlapping strata defines the architecture of Etruscan tombs and the 21st-century galleries.

An enigmatic stone stair serves as an entry point to the Hypogeum Floor from the Foundation’s street-level entrance hall.  This comprises a ticket office, café bistro, and bookshop with access to a courtyard garden designed by Greencure Marilena Baggio Studio (Milan) in which the outline of the museum’s domes is visible. A mezzanine houses the offices of the Luigi Rovati Foundation. 

The piano nobile has been rearranged and restored sensitively with considered contemporary interventions by Mario Cucinella Architects. The second floor is home to temporary events and exhibitions. The third floor houses the Andrea Aprea restaurant named after the celebrated Milanese chef. The Foundation’s study collection is held in the sub-basement below the Hypogeum Floor.

This architectural journey through time and culture, connecting life and afterlife, past, present, and future over seven stories has involved a bold engineering challenge. “At one point, the building was virtually suspended in mid-air”, says Mario Cucinella, referencing the period during which the superstructure of the palazzo was balanced on slim temporary foundations as the volume for the underground museum and the service floor beneath it was excavated.   “Coincidentally”, adds Cucinella, “this theme of suspension is also apparent in the concept for the Etruscan archaeology galleries. We wanted to create a suspended ambiance. That’s why the Etruscan vases rest on almost invisible bases giving the impression that they are floating in mid-air.”