Once upon a time in Milan – Renovation and energy saving

Segolene Pruvot

By Segolene Pruvot, on February 15th, 2013

> Read Segolene Pruvot's articles

Feedback by Marco Pozzo from a visit made in the framework of the URBACT Workstream ‘Building Energy Efficiency’, which investigated and consolidated the outputs on many URBACT projects dealing with the issue of energy efficiency.

An ancient farmhouse in the centre of Milan becomes a new energy saving public space.
When the 6th workstream “Building Energy Efficiency” had its last meeting in Milan, 5-6 november 2012, the core group and witnesses had the chance to visit one of the most interesting renovation project going on in that city.
An holistic approach rules an intervention that put together urban regeneration, architecture, energy retrofitting and social involvement.

One of the side projects that would equip the territory of Milan to deal with the event of the expo 2015 was “100 cascine”: a network of historic farmhouses scattered in Lombardy, semi or fully abandoned, to be recovered in order to provide accommodation during the expo and, in the future, to provide opportunities for reviving the agricultural landscape and face the consumption of fields.

That plan, like many others related to expo 2015, has been set aside by public bodies, leaving any possibility of renaissance in the hands of volunteers or young entrepreneurs. Fortunately, one farm has attracted the interest of a number of virtuous associations who already have some experiences in recovering degraded urban areas.
This is a tale about romantic and smart people who want to prove that work for the community is profitable.

An old Farmhouse declared unfit reinvested thanks to citizens groups
Cascina Cuccagna is an old farmhouse built in 1695.
Cascina is the Italian expression for farmhouse and Cuccagna refers to a mythical country of culinary delights and the term is useful for the current destination.
In 1881 the farmhouse was sold to a Family of grocers and the norPhoto 2 Borghithern part of the farmhouse was transformed in “casa di ringhiera”, traditional dwelling in Milan with open common balcony. In the ’40s and 50’s, every room hosted an entire family. The same room was used as a living room, a dining room, and a sleeping room at the same time. In the balcony people shared the running water and the bathroom.
In the ’60s Cascina Cuccagna was well known in Milan for a tavern that remained open all night long, called “Osteria dei naviganti e sognatori” (Sailors’ and deamers’ tavern).
In 1980 Cascina Cuccagna was sold to the municipality of Milan which declared it unfit for use. We had to wait more than 20 years and the work of various organizations and citizen groups to get a new project of restoration.


A rehabilitation project led by 10 associations joining in a consortium

photo 3 Borghi

In 2004 ten associations operating in Milan have joined together in “Associazione Consorzio Cantiere Cuccagna” and developed a program to embody the rehabilitation of the farmhouse in a multifunctional collective space for the city community.
In the same year the Consorzio participated to a public competition for the management of the farmhouse; and in 2005 it formally obtained a 20 year grant for the use and cunduction of the farmhouse with the constraint of the conservative renovation.
The transformation of the Cuccagna Farmhouse in a multifunctional centre required an investment of 3,5 million euro. Thanks to the financial support of foundations and banks the Consorzio was able to begin works (November 2008). Since then a permanent activity of fundraising has been carried out. A very important role has been played by the citizens of Milan. Thanks to their generosity almost 100.000 euro have been collected through donation and individual contributions.
Actually fundraising is more active than ever as there are still many works to be paid and many other to be done.
In the coming years, a great challenge for the Cascina Cuccagna will be to achieve complete sustainability and economic balance between incomes from commercial activities contained in its spaces (bar, restaurant, food store, hostel and services for children), and a permanent fundraising from companies, institutions and other partners.

A restauration respectful of the building
photo 4 borghiThe restauration is held under the Regional Council of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Environmental Conservation. Therefore a conservative restoration was chosen to be respectful of the building’s history.
The restoration works have been aimed to the preservation of the building (original lombard terracotta floors, original wooden beams), but new facilities have been added at the same time, participating in the symbolic stratification of the architectural elements. It also includes the use of new sustainable technologies such as hydro-geothermal heating system and ecological insulation. All decisions are in accordance with the European GreenBuilding Programme.
Cuccagna is constrained by the Regional Council of the Ministry of Cultural and Environmental Assets. Therefore a conservative restoration was chosen to be respectful of the building’s history.photo 5 borghi
Restoration works were aimed at preservation of the building (the original Lombard terracotta floors, wooden beams), but new facilities were added at the same time, participating in the symbolic stratification of architectural elements. This procedure also includes the use of new sustainable technologies such as hydro-geothermal heating and ecological insulation and walls coating. All decisions are in accordance with the European GreenBuilding Programme.

Cascina Cuccagna is today a multipurpose space and a meeting point between generation and cultures
Cascina Cuccagna is the most centrally located of the 60 farmhouses owned by the municipality of Milan. photo 6 borghiIt’s only 4 subway stops away from Piazza Duomo.
It consists in more than 2000 square metres of roofed area and 1500 square metres of green areas and courts. It is a multipurpose space for the neighborhood and the city, and a meeting point between generations and cultures.
Nowadays Cascina Cuccagna keeps running many activities:
A Ciclofficina, a permanent workshop where everyone can learn how to repair their bicycle. A Farmers’ Market (that takes place every Tuesday afternoon, since 2009) and a food store that sells only local products. A restaurant that serves only recipes made with the best local seasonal products. An Ethical purchasing group (GAS) to easily purchase food and other commonly used goods directly from the producers. A Banca del tempo, a  local exchange and trading system.
Cascina Cuccagna is also a location for events and, in the coming days, also a 12-bed hostel will open along with a permanent service for children and families.

It’s an unique space because it brings the most tangible aspects of the countryside into the city centre. And it’s the perfect space to develop a new concept of green metropolitan life and citizens’ active participation.
As evidence of this it has become a cultural landmark during the Milan design week, that in April of each year catches the attention of the world.
… and they all lived happily ever after.


To read more on the Energy Efficiency Workstream, you can refer to the article by Antonio Borghi published in the URBACT Tribune

One Response to “Once upon a time in Milan – Renovation and energy saving”

  1. Joy says:

    What are the necessary tips that you can provide to achieved energy saving?

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