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Zaha Hadid’s mall in CityLife and what it leaves behind

Entering Zaha Hadid’s shopping mall in Milan’s new CityLife district is like making a journey into the imagery of the architect who suddenly passed away last year. An experience in which reason is overwealmed by emotion.

Today I visited what, when it will open on November 30, will be one of the largest Italian shopping malls: CityLife in Milan designed by Zaha Hadid. Where once was the old fair, between the three towers – by Hadid, Isozaki and Libeskind – the mall will rise in one of the symbolic aras of the new Milan, one of those that it is is a national sport to love or detest.

To clarify immediately my position, I love this new Milan. But cannot say the same of shopping malls. It is not snobbery, but the objective physical phobia that drives me when I walk through their doors: the carousel of aggressive spotlights, glittering surfaces and environments so hot that you want to take your skin off makes me want to leave after 5 minutes.

L’esterno dello shopping mall di Zaha Hadid. Foto Laura Traldi

Why then do I talk about this shopping district? And why, above all, do I know I’ll be back as soon as it’s open to the public? The reason is that the visit to the belly of this giant designed by Zaha Hadid is – for those who know the architecture and its work, as well as the criticisms and appreciations it has aroused in her imposing career – as a journey between life and death, between dream and reality, between rationality and emotion. A dive into an inheritance that is still developing after Hadid’s departure, so much so that getting into it was a bit like being back in front of her, suddenly departed in 2016, with her gigantic and iconic personality.

In the area dedicated to fashion and food, placed one over the other, everything is “so much”, almost too much: the wooden strips that draw curious curves, the oblong openings, the stairs that look glazed and run one with the other apparently suspended in the void … it’s all so Zaha – think Maxxi in Rome or Galaxy Soho in Beijing. Because it is as if she, with her architectures that exist as physical representations of her visions, was still here, and her dreams never ceased to renew even after her death.



The interiors of the food section of the shopping mall, in the making


In the shopping mall there is no slab covering the structure, nor bamboo strip of ceiling or window giving on the sky that is the same as the other. And during the visit, men at work seem more artisans committed to doing things with precision and refinement that I work at a yard.

It’s a way of building and designing the architecture that fists with the actuality and the need to optimize space and materials and so it would like to reject, rationally speaking. Yet you can not do it. Indeed, I personally find this space irresistible: aesthetically, first of all, because the charm of this “too” obvious but not screamed, decorative but also extremely geometric, is undeniable. It is a beauty for which you are worth the price of excess – it happens rarely but it happens.

But it is mainly from the human point of view that I found this fascinating place. Because of this, they remembered the details of the beautiful designs Zaha realized as a girl (exhibited in Venice during the biennial last year in her dedicated retrospective and at the Serpentine Gallery in London). And it was spontaneous to think: here, you did it, you Iraqi girl  and then woman in a world dominated by males. You been able to fill the world of those curves and those dynamic signs that were obsessing you, since childhood and that before becoming a billionaire “signature style” have been the undisputed protagonists of a personal and intimate urban imagery, the alphabet of a discourse on the future of which you wanted to be the indisputable and unmistakable protagonist. What’s left to us, is the possibility of capturing the magic of a dream come true. Because Earth’s logic does not work in the world of Hadid, whom Rem Koolhaas, her teacher at London’s School of Architecture apostrophed, on the day of her graduation, as “a planet with a self-contained orbit.”

And getting into this orbit is enough for a visit to CityLife. As far as I am concerned, as much as or much more  than any brand list in the new shopping paradise.


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