The 150 photographs taken by Lorenzo Pennati, all hitherto unseen, document Portaluppi’s prolific output which always included a wide range of different types of buildings – from palazzi and villas for the haute bourgeoisie to museums, hotels, offices and much more besides, and constant research “made of continuity with tradition and a slightly disenchanted desire to trial new vocabularies. Cartoonist, satirical draughtsman, passionate puzzler, over the course of his lengthy career he built a visionary, fantastical world, built of imaginary buildings, but also of stylistic calambours: stars, and astrolabes, which he scattered here and there with precious marble and Deco-style mouldings,” noted Patrizia Piccinini.
The book contains a splendid selection of work from his prolific career, split into three project types: city buildings and public spaces, homes, and industrial building aesthetics. The city in which he did most work was Milan (his birth city), with the Ulrico Hoepli Planetarium, a Neo-Classical-style building but ironically dotted with little stars; the Argentario – now the headquarters of the Museo del Novecento – a sober building created with Giovanni Muzio, Pier Giulio Magistretti and Enrico Agostino Griffini; and edifices such as the headquarters of the Banca Commerciale, the RAS, in collaboration with Gio Ponti, and the Buonarroti-Carpaccio-Giotto company building.
Notable amongst his many private residences, marked out by their sophisticated surfaces and details, are the “entrance” volume of Casa Radici-Di Stefano, with its marvellous bow windows at a 45° rotation to the façade to render the living space more fluid, Casa Corbellini Wassermann, with its elegant striped-effect floors, Villa Necchi Campiglio, with its stand-out boiseries, furnishings, and bathrooms making for a play of sophistication, and modern luxuries such as the heated swimming pool, the butler’s tray, the radiator covers and the internal intercom. Not surprisingly, Luca Guadagnino and Ridley Scott chose the elegant villa as the set for their films I Am Love and House of Gucci.
His workplace architecture includes the Verampio hydroelectric power station in Val d’Ossola, and, in Milan, the Società Filatura Cascami Seta and the Linificio e Canapificio Nazionale buildings, the latter designed at two different stages, bearing his hallmark – neither classic nor modern, with a secessionist flavour and a rationalist feel.
Eclectic and modernist, academic yet ironic, he will forever remain “the ingeniously clever architect” as his father-in-law Ettore, a leading industrialist in the hydroelectric power sector, described him.