Giovanni Muzio, Palazzo dell’Arte (1931-1933)


Palazzo dell’Arte was built in three years, between 1931 and 1933, following a project conducted by the architect Giovanni Muzio. Erected by the side of the most important Milanese park, Parco Sempione, it was conceived as a flexible exhibition space since the beginning.In 1933 it was opened on the occasion of the 5th Triennale, a triennial exhibition of fine and applied arts that was previously held in Monza. The Triennale would subsequently take place at Palazzo dell’Arte until 2016, although with some interruptions: the first one during WWII (1940-1947); the second one in 1968, when the museum was occupied and the exhibition destroyed; and the last one between 2001 and 2016.The majestic building, modern in its concept and forms, currently hosts an important historical archive; a cultural library (Biblioteca del Progetto); the Triennale Design Museum (since 2007), redesigned by the architect Michele De Lucchi; and the Teatro dell’Arte (since 2011).

Main Principles

  1. The Spatial Construction of the New Man’s Urban Reality

  2. Narrative Rationalization: Staging a Collective Spectacle


During the thirties, the money coming from the public or private field and destined to urban planning increased significantly. Entire cities were then reshaped, acquiring new appearances and Milan, among them, was directly involved in this process.Being one of the first ‘new buildings’ erected within the city already at the beginning of the decade, Muzio’s Palazzo dell’Arte is particularly meaningful. Its importance was also ‘officialised’ by a public event, occurred the year before its opening: in October 1932, when Mussolini visited Milan, Palazzo dell’Arte was one of the first places he attended, familiarising with the workers on the construction site (Il Capo del… 1932,1).The building was financed by a private institution, Fondazione Bernocchi, which entrusted Giovanni Muzio with the entire project, upon the suggestion of Mario Sironi and Gio Ponti, who were in charge of the V Triennale (1933). Within a short span of time, the architect was able to realise a building, which was architecturally up-to-date and spatially and materially innovative. Moreover, the construction site soon became a living example of 'arte totale', being populated by engineers, architects as well as artists working on the building’s decoration (murals, mosaics, bas-reliefs and sculptures).

In 1933, Palazzo dell’Arte opened its doors: it was an impressive construction built right next to Parco Sempione, ideally closing the axial space marked by Arco della Pace, Castello Sforzesco and Arena. Three-floor tall and longitudinally shaped around a majestic hall (ground floor), the building was the first in Italy made with clinker, a modern material substituting the bricks, but visually recalling the traditional local material "cotto lombardo". Exactly as Ca’ Brutta, Muzio’s Palazzo dell’Arte is a perfect balance between past and present, representing an interesting example of Novecento’s architecture. The use of geometric forms and rigorous volumes perfectly matches with the simple and elegant triumphal entrance hall that recalls Neo-classicist examples such as the Milanese Villa Reale (1790-1796) or Teatro alla Scala (1778).

Arranged within such an inspiring fabric, the first Milanese Triennale (1933) was a success, showing artworks made by some prominent artists of those years, such as Arturo Martini, Marino Marini and Mario Sironi. As the outcome of the collaboration among different professionals, this building is the perfect example of one of the main fascist ideals, corporativism. Being an adaptable place for cultural activities, Palazzo dell’Arte has been hosting several exhibitions dealing not only with arts, but also with science and technology. For instance, in 1939, a milestone like “La Leonardesca” (1939), the first public and modern exhibition dedicated to Leonardo, was organised there. By virtue of that, the building can be considered one of the first public spaces entirely dedicated to temporary exhibitions, which the PNF (National Fascist Party) could use to effectively spread its propaganda.


'Il Capo del Governo lascia Milano dopo una rassegna delle opere che testimoniano lo sforzo d’ascesa della Metropoli.' L’Italia XXI (1932): 256:1

Burg, Annegret. 1991. Novecento milanese. I novecentisti e il rinnovamento dell’architettura a Milano fra il 1920 e il 1940. Milan: Federico Motta.

Irace, Fulvio. 1997. Giovanni Muzio (1893-1982). Opere. Milan: Electa.

Silvia Colombo