Mario Cucinella Architects balances old and new at Fondazione Luigi Rovati Museum

3 min

Italian studio Mario Cucinella Architects has transformed a 19th-century building in Milan into an art gallery, adding a contemporary underground exhibition space to the historic structure.

Named the Fondazione Luigi Rovati Museum, the gallery is housed within Milan’s 19th-century Palazzo Bocconi-Rizzoli-Carraro and is designed to showcase both modern and Etruscan art.

To pay homage to the past and present, Mario Cucinella Architects balanced the original features of the historic building with contemporary additions, including a basement with layered stone walls.

©Duccio Malagamba

“The architecture represents a voyage across time, from ancient history to the more recent past, present, and future,” said studio founder Mario Cucinella.

“The term future is used here not only as it relates to the design concept, but above all the levels of innovation and technical knowledge required by the complexity of the architectural and display projects.”

Mario Cucinella Architects aimed to retain as much of the existing Palazzo Bocconi-Rizzoli-Carraro as possible, preserving the street-facing facade, central hall and courtyard, along with the larger rooms on the first floor that now function as galleries.

©Duccio Malagamba

The existing levels now host Fondazione Luigi Rovati Museum’s event spaces, archives, dining areas and a bookshop, as well as two floors of exhibition space.

To contrast the building’s existing interior, the studio added a basement level that houses a network of cave-like galleries arranged across four domed chambers informed by Etruscan tombs.

©Duccio Malagamba

“In preparation for the expansion down to two underground levels, the structure was first stabilised by inserting piles around the entire perimeter of the existing building and that of the future expansion,” explained Cucinella.

“Before starting the construction phases, it was necessary to reduce the weight of the building by removing partition walls, furnishings, woodwork, and plaster, and to completely demolish the roof and third floor.”

©Duccio Malagamba

Formed from overlapping layers of limestone ashlar, the walls of the basement level curve up to domed ceilings that feature the same pattern of layered stone.

Two hundred Etruscan artefacts, including vases, jewellery and cinerary urns, are displayed throughout the space in free-standing and wall-mounted cases designed by Mario Cucinella Architects.

©Duccio Malagamba

“For the exhibition design, the elements were studied and designed in detail in order to generate an immersive experience of the objects on display through a mix of history, archaeology, design, architecture and digital technologies,” said Cucinella.

Works by contemporary artists including Alberto Giacometti, Pablo Picasso, Arturo Martini, Lucio Fontana and William Kentridge are also shown among the artefacts.

A stone staircase leads from the basement to the street-level entrance hall, which features a ticket office, cafe and bookshop.

Extending from the entrance hall is a courtyard designed by local landscape architect Marilena Baggio that offers views of the domed ceilings in the basement.

©Duccio Malagamba

Refreshed in the 1960s with decorations and fabric upholstery by architect Filippo Perego, the first floor offers further exhibition space that features a combination of objects from the museum’s collection as well as modern art.

Additional space on the second floor is dedicated to temporary events and exhibitions, while a restaurant takes up the third floor. An additional level beneath the basement holds Fondazione Luigi Rovati Museum’s study collection.

©Duccio Malagamba

Founded by Cucinella in 1992, Mario Cucinella Architects is an architecture studio based in Bologna and Milan.

Other recent projects completed by the studio include a monolithic concrete church with a cross-shaped entrance and a hospital with ceramic fins designed to break down smog particles.

The photography is by Duccio Malagamba.