Design Notes Archive

Piero Portaluppi

Piero Portaluppi

If you watched Ridley Scott’s adaptation of House of Gucci, you may have spied Villa Necchi-Campiglio among the architectural gems used as locations in the film. The Milanese villa (set as the home of Rodolfo Gucci) was built by Italian architect Piero Portaluppi in 1935 and represented the future of the family home at the time. Its streamlined design included marble and travertine patterned floors, briarwood wainscotting, and geometric details like a striking walnut handrail lining the entry stairs (centre). That, coupled with the era’s latest amenities (think dumbwaiters and house phones) have made it a must visit on The Network of the House Museums of Milan since opening to the public in 2008, after restoration by Portaluppi’s nephew, Piero Castellini Baldissera.

It’s one of several properties, ranging from iconic to obscure, in Patrizia Piccinini’s forthcoming monograph, Piero Portaluppi: Between Tradition and the Avant-Garde. The book features 150 previously unpublished photographs by Lorenzo Pennati and is due to hit bookshelves at the end of this month. It gives an eye-opening glimpse into Portaluppi’s career (having been a “starchitect” of his day and Dean of Architecture at Politecnico di Milano) and also does a fascinating deep dive into the backstory of each location. Included in the mix are country houses, apartment dwellings, corporate buildings, a planetarium, and power stations (yes power stations).

“The hydroelectric power stations designed in Val d’Ossola by Portaluppi between 1912 and 1929 are the finest examples of his creative freedom and his strongest suit, his imagination,” says Piccinini. One case in point, the Cadarese power station (right) boasts what appear to be green tiles interlocking with stone. But on closer inspection the pattern is a trompe l’oeil effect in plaster made using a technique called sgraffito, in which layers of plaster in contrasting colors are applied while the surface is damp. It’s just one example of Portaluppi’s passion for detail and use of repeating geometric motifs which became a hallmark of his style.  

Should you find yourself in northern Italy, do look up his work and go for a visit—each location featured in the book is open to the public.

Piero Portaluppi by Patrizia Piccinini © Rizzoli New York, 2022. Photos © Lorenzo Pennati.