Design Central

Marco Piva’s latest hotel project shows the Italian knack for mixing styles and periods.


Words by Francis Pearce

By-words of Milanese architect Marco Piva are 'exciting, fluid and functional'. At the newly refurbished Hotel Excelsior Gallia in Milan they characterise a use of space that has transformed an already well-loved building. The city has a special place in the world of design and the pride in its inventiveness and style has been marked in many ways, holding the 2015 Expo and the annual Design Week among them. Piva chose to celebrate Milan's heritage in the recent redesign of the 1932 hotel by theming five of its 53 suites (including the country's largest) after Milan design heroes: Vico Magistretti, Achille Castiglioni, Giò Ponti, Luigi Caccia Dominioni and Franco Albini, one on each floor. And that is where the gesture might have stopped with a lesser project but for an ambitious desire to fuse styles from art deco to industrial, and to use materials from Murano glass to metal to reconcile contemporary style and that of the Belle Epoque.

The Excelsior Hotel Gallia building covers an entire block, on the city's Piazza Duca D'Aosta, which is also home to the Pirelli Tower and the grand Milano Centrale railway station.

Its scale is enough to accommodate a variety of interior spaces and environments now linked via a system of portals, characterised by black glass, metal and light and incorporating a 100m-long internal promenade.

The promenade is lined with small 'boutique windows' displaying luxury goods, and connects the historical wing's common spaces with the new building's Grand Hall, used for meetings and congresses.

The cupola is now a huge crystal room featuring 586 prisms
The cupola is now a huge crystal room featuring 586 prisms

A monumental entrance hall at the heart of the historical building links to the wine cellar (in the basement), lounge, library, cigar room, bar, restaurant and La Scala, a historical venue used for banquets.

Piva studied the original materials and surfaces, referencing Thirties' Milan architecture, the La Scala Theatre, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, villa Necchi Campiglio and Milanese courtyards in particular, and using often highly reflective materials, such as brown antique marble as well as glass and ethereal, luminous steel.

Intimate venues, such as the cigar room and library, were designed as private clubs, with silk-screened glass and memories of the Milanese Liberty (art nouveau) and art deco periods, and using material such as thick, chamfered, reflecting and silk-screen printed glass; traditional parquet and a soft flooring with modern, metal inserts.

The restaurant and breakfast room (Sala Gallia) floor is made from an external marble frame with an interior surface from parallel, wooden staves. The restaurant's decor is mainly black, while the predominant colour in the bar area is white. Although there is contrast, there is also synergy. Angular wainscotting in the restaurant continues on to the curved wall of the bar in Reflex painted glass, and the back of the bar counter is all in leather. Elsewhere, the material used includes traditional Italian and Middle Eastern marbles in Classic Rosewood, Afyon White and Black Portoro Buono.

A detail from an ‘art suite’, on the second floor
A detail from an 'art suite', on the second floor

The eight-storey central staircase has been preserved and renovated to include a 30m-high Murano glass chandelier comprising a cascade of 180 light cylinders. Hotel and external guests can take super-fast, back-illuminated quartz lifts to the spa and swimming pool on the sixth and seventh floors. The seventh is also home to the Terrace Bar and a multifunction room under the historical building's Central Cupola, now a huge crystal room coated with 586 prisms of mirror-finished Alucobond. The space beneath the Central Cupola is equipped with audio-visual tech and rollaway seats for private banquets and parties, and links to the Royal Suite.

The new accommodation comprises 235 guest rooms and 51 suites, plus a Presidential and a Royal Suite. Eight of the suites are designed to reflect Milan's status as a capital of fashion and design and five furnished with examples of design classics created in the city. A further 17 atelier suites in the historical building reference, through furnishings and atmosphere, writers and poets who have stayed in Milan.

The central staircase features a 30m-deep chandelier of Murano glass
The central staircase features a 30m-deep chandelier of Murano glass

Ten Signature Suites overlook an inner courtyard. These are intended to evoke art galleries and feature art and special lighting, while another six at the corner of the modern facade have full-height, sliding panels echoing art photography of the historical facade and giving space flexibility.

In addition to the architecture and interior design, Studio Marco Piva put together a collection of more than 500 artworks including sculptures, paintings and photographs, located in strategic hotel areas, in common spaces, rooms and exclusive areas. Meanwhile, the executive suites have more of the feel of Milan lofts. The fitfh floor 160 sq m Presidential Suite in the historical building has its own balcony overlooking Piazza Duca d'Aosta with the 1,000 sq m Royal Suite on the seventh and top floors.

The Piazza Duca D'Aosta with its mix of starkly elegant, high-rise modern architecture in the Pirelli Tower, and cakey indulgence expressed in the Grand Milano and Gallia's own facades, show how it is possible to mix styles and periods and get away with it. Piva's refurbishment accomplishes the same within the Gallia and links its style with that of the Piazza and the city as a whole.

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