Erica Firpo, Popupla's Rome-based contributing editor, keeps her sanity and love for Rome by getting away from it often. Where does she go? Modern, chic, industrialized Milan.
MILAN – Milan is my Breath of Fresh Air, my Mind Clearer, and my Get Back to Reality city. As much as I love Rome and its ever-permeating chaos, every now and then I need to get out of my own head, literally and metaphysically. I need Milan like some people need that morning meditation, coffee, workout, cigarette, or shot. Just two hours and 55 minutes on the , and I've got my fix.
Here's how you can get yours: Grab a map of Milan and head seven or so kilometers slightly northeast of the Duomo. Like a lot of the city's outer neighborhoods, Bicocca is a Vonnegut setting — a town built on the remains of Borgo Pirelli (Pirelli Town), Italy's early 20th-century City of Industry.
Back in the day, Bicocca was the hub of Italy's top automotive and mass transit companies — tires, trains, engines, cars, war machines, and more made the hamlet an industrial landscape of factories, warehouses, and workers' housing. Eighty years later, it has evolved into a Tetris formation of red brick buildings and midsize angular hangars, to form a mini city grid of administrative and financial offices, a state university, and the .
It's here that you'll find an incredible art foundation on the grounds of the old tire factory. HangarBicocca is Pirelli's love letter to site-specific art installations. There are three buildings on 10,000-square-meters of California campus-style grounds: the Shed (a series of connected, low brick buildings), the Navata (an amazing and huge hangar), and the Cubo. Admission is free for all. The interactive art space has large-scale permanent exhibitions like Anselm Kiefer's , fragile cement towers and huge, mixed-media paintings.
Other charming additions include an enclosed garden that becomes an informal playground when schools visit, a buzzy cafe, wild Instagram opportunities (see: Fausto Melotti's enormous La Sequenza from 1981, a 22-meter sequence of oxidized iron sheets surrounded by tumbleweeds).
Appearing every now and then in the dark-hued palette of grays, whites, and blacks are uniformed members of HangarBicocca's pit crew, young art monitors wearing Pirelli jackets emblazoned with the clever hashtag #arttothepeople, treading on trend as much on Borgo Pirelli's famous 1943 workers' strike. Off to the side of the shed is Dopolavoro, a beautiful caffe with chalkboard walls and open seating that is as much a hip meet-up as the perfect business lunch spot. The menu is seasonal Italian regional organically curated by chef Lorenzo Piccinelli.
So, yeah, this is how I get my contemporary fix: Milan art people watching a glass of Arneis with lunch.
Via Chiesa 2
20126 Milan, Italy
Thursday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Entry is free.
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This article originally appeared on and has been adapted with permission for publication on Popupla.