By Glyn T. Davies
Few cities match Milan’s style, sophistication, and financial clout. A world city on a par with Los Angeles or Mexico City, Greater Milan’s ten million people and its strengths in commerce, design, education, finance, and media make it a leading European Union hub. Milan was the seat of the Western Roman Empire and later ranked among the great cities of the Renaissance. Today, Milan is culture and taste, business and fashion, art and elegance.
More than a decade ago, the Department of State decided it had to replace the U.S. Consulate General in Milan. In order to put America’s best foot forward in such a dynamic, fashion-oriented city, the Department converted an old firing range into a modern consulate general while preserving and incorporating historic structures.
Italy’s National Firing Range opened in 1905, and the grounds hosted many notable events, including the Giro d’Italia bike race, second in stature only to the Tour de France. It was a center of Milanese civic life, where people came together for sport and celebration. But it was shut down a half-century ago, and its grand, ornate structures began to decay. Concerned that it would fall further into disrepair, the Italian government listed the property as a protected landmark.
When the U.S. acquired the property in 2013, the local authorities requested the restoration of its iconic Liberty Building entryway, ornate wooden shooting canopy, and other features, creating daunting design, restoration, and architectural challenges. The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) and the design contractor SHoP Architects worked closely with City Hall and Milan’s Fine Arts Commission, and the resulting plan has won plaudits.
Milan’s mayor hailed it as transformational, “destined to be a driving force behind the growth” of a central district in this dynamic world city.
OBO’s Office of Cultural Heritage produced a short film about how the United States is building a consulate general in Milan that will integrate classical Italian architecture and American design in a grand act of cultural diplomacy. The film can be seen here.
Ambassador Glyn T. Davies is the senior program advisor to the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations’ Office of Cultural Heritage.