Milan elan

Standing under floodlights in a hangar that was once part of Milan’s former trade fair site is a mock-up apartment that may reveal how today’s Milanese would like to live. The apartment is the show unit of the CityLife project, a €2.2bn scheme backed by two insurance companies – General Properties (the real estate arm of Gruppo Generali) and Gruppo Allianz – due to transform Milan’s old trade fair grounds, some 3km northwest of the city’s famous cathedral.

Planned for the centre of CityLife are three skyscrapers designed by Zaha Hadid, Daniel Libeskind and Irata Isozaki, with the majority of each earmarked for office space. Topping out at 202m, Isozaki’s building will be the second highest in Italy when it is finished in 2015, beaten only by the minaret-like spire perched on the city’s new Garibaldi Tower, soon to be the headquarters of UniCredit bank.

A public park – set to be the third biggest in the centre of Milan – will flank the skyscrapers with residential buildings designed by Libeskind and Hadid at the edge of the scheme. The progress of the entire site can be observed live via webcam on the CityLife website.

Furnished in co-operation with the Italian edition of Architectural Digest magazine, the show apartment gives local home-seekers much of what they may already be used to: retro sofas in the reception room, a kitchen island and, more prosaically, a small laundry room containing a clothes dryer perched on top of a washing machine. But the expansive, angular terrace with its large dining table is a rare luxury in a city where most apartments have little more than a narrow balcony sufficient for a row of potted plants.

Italy may be mired in recession – the International Monetary Fund recently cut its 2012 GDP forecast for the country by a further 1.9 per cent to minus 2.3 – but many central districts of Italy’s second city appear to be buzzing; this has long been the country’s most dynamic urban centre, after all.

And it’s the very people who make Milan’s business sector tick who are CityLife’s principal target for the 164,000 sq metres of new living space that the scheme is creating, with each apartment priced at an average of €8,500 per sq metre.

“More than celebrities and sportsmen, we expect that this is the kind of place that the people who run Milan’s industry, plus professionals like lawyers and doctors, will want to call home,” says Claudio Artusi, chief executive of CityLife.

The entry price for a 70 sq metre, one-bedroom unit on the ground floor of a Libeskind-designed block is about €450,000, rising to €4.7m for a split-level penthouse on the ninth and 10th floors with five en suite bedrooms and approximately 500 sq metres of living space.

In spite of the slump, Artusi says that “CityLife’s potential customers are still wealthy people. They do not have a lot of confidence in bonds and stocks and see real estate as a more prudent investment, particularly one that can be passed on to their children.”

Although the skyscrapers should top out at the end of 2015, the year Milan hosts the Universal Exposition, Artusi says the plan is to “modulate completion depending on market conditions”. If this sounds like a developer giving himself some wiggle room on dates, it should perhaps come as no surprise given the scale of the project; CityLife is a massive development covering 360,000 sq metres (think 45 football pitches) and the developer needs to contend with a number of different challenges, including making space for a new museum of contemporary art – the building housing it is a Libeskind design – and restoring a turn-of-the century fair pavilion for which the developers have set aside €7m, a contractual requirement (the pavilion’s precise use has not yet been decided by the city authorities).

Computer-generated image of the Hadid, Libeskind and Isozaki towers

Homebuyers in Milan looking for comfort and space might consider some other options, too: a 200 sq metre, three-bedroom, two-bathroom unit five minutes’ walk from the cathedral with a 200 sq metre terrace (€2.2m through Lombardi Real Estate); or a 156 sq metre new-build apartment in the bohemian, mainly residential Isola neighbourhood, also with three bedrooms and two bathrooms and 156 sq metres of terrace, plus a parking space (€820,000 through Milano Servizi Immobiliari).

The Navigli, meanwhile, a trendy area south of the city centre at the intersection of two stagnant canals, has attracted investment since the 1990s but is probably too edgy and scruffy ever to become an established high-end residential district.

Elsewhere in the city, the regeneration of the Porta Nuova district around the Garibaldi train station (site of the Porta Garibaldi Tower, among other high buildings) and adjacent to Isola, gives a foretaste of the new Milan that CityLife is helping to usher in.

“As the new buildings get completed it’s difficult to know what the effect will be on the survival of the local bar, on the street market and on parking,” says Sara Rosso, a food and technology writer living in Isola. “But there is an inevitability to change in Milan – and that in itself is exciting.”

Buying guide


Dynamic city with a strong sense of flair

Close to the Italian Lakes and the Alps

Cosmopolitan atmosphere


Property values are falling

High transfer taxes for luxury new-build and purchases by non-residents

Air pollution and smog are a problem

What you can buy for ...

€100,000 A studio flat close to Milan’s Central Station in need of refurbishment.

€1m A two-bedroom unit with a private parking space in a Daniel Libeskind-designed residence in CityLife

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