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Turning a new leaf: 'Forest in the sky' to transform Milan's architecture

From John Defterios, CNN
May 14, 2014 -- Updated 0306 GMT (1106 HKT)
  • Porta Nuova aims to transform Milan's skyline
  • Project will feature new skyscrapers and buildings covered with trees
  • Some experts believe construction ventures like these could get Italian economy moving

One Square Meter explores the leading architectural designs, city plans and demand for property investment in emerging markets. Join CNN's John Defterios as he visits some of the world's most dynamic cities for an insight into the fast-paced world of real estate development.

(CNN) -- Milan might be most famous as the capital of Italian fashion and finance, but it's an ambitious architectural project that's generating buzz these days in the home of Armani and Alfa Romeo.

Porta Nuova is a new 290,000 square meter (3.12 million square feet) site that will encompass office, residential and green space on the previously neglected outskirts of the city.

Building work on the project started in 2009. When finished, it will feature numerous sleek skyscraper buildings that will juxtapose sharply with Milan's more traditional low-rise architecture.

As Italy looks to emerge from the Eurozone crisis, there are even some who suggest developments like these could help get the country's economy moving again.

"The made in Italy brand is not just fashion and design and food," said Manfredi Catella, CEO of property development and management firm, Hines Italia.

"Now the first (brand) is our land. This is the natural resource of the country. The Middle East have their oil, we have our oil in our land. Now we have to take it back and create value. Porta Nuova is an example," Catella added.

Valued at more than $2 billion Porta Nuova is 60% financed by European investors with the remaining 40% funded by Qatar holdings.

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The jewels in the crown of the project are arguably the Bosco Verticale (roughly translated as vertical forest) buildings.

The taller of these two residential towers will stand 128 meters (419 feet) high while more than 900 trees will adorn exterior walls and balcony space.

A new 231 meter curved tower close by, meanwhile, will house Unicredit Group's European headquarters and cater for 4,000 of the financial services firm's staff.

Unicredit's general manager Paolo Fiorentino said the new building could change the way the company structures its premises in the future.

"The feedback (so far) is so positive that we will replicate this project also in other cities like Vienna. We have in mind also Rome but we change the overall headquarters philosophy in the group," Fiorentino said.

"In reality what we put under discussion is the way that our people are sharing space."

Major global firms such as Google have also agreed to set up their Italian headquarters here.

But while some see progress and opportunity, others are reserving judgment.

"We are not used to certain skylines now you have to lift your head up," said local architect and designer, Massimmo Locatelli.

"That new way of building for Milan is really unusual and I guess people expect to get used to it," he added.

With just under a year to go until the Porta Nuova project is completed, traditionalists now don't have long to savor the city's existing skyline.

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