The University of Milan is based in “la Cà Granda”, or “the big house”, the name once used by the Milanese people to describe the huge Ospedale Maggiore complex.
Founded on 1456 by the Duke of Milan Francesco Sforza and his wife Bianca Maria, the gigantic complex was built to provide medical care for the city’s poorest people, reorganising and concentrating patients from the city’s various institutions in a single building.
The project was entrusted to the Tuscan architect Antonio Averlino, known as Filarete, literally the one who loves virtues, who described it in detail in his Trattato di Architettura (Treatise on Architecture) as an integral part of Sforzinda, the ideal city of largely Renaissance inspiration dedicated to Francesco Sforza. The plan proposed by Filarete was based on a square and it had clair symbolic religious references.
Filarete’s project was funded by legacies, donations and citizens’ contributions paid on the occasion of the Festa del Perdono (Feast of Forgiveness), a special city jubilee celebrated on 25 March of every odd-numbered year with a generous dispensation of indulgences.
Cà Granda covers an area of 43,000 square metres and is, along with the Duomo, one of the most instantly recognisable features on the city’s map. It is shaped like a huge rectangle and subdivided into two crosses, with four courtyards at each end and a large central courtyard encircled by two-storey porticoes.
The construction of Cà Granda continued until the early years of the 19th century and, while adhering to Filarete’s original plan, was enhanced by various additional architectural elements.
The typically Renaissance-style round arches designed by Filarete (ground floor) gave way to the mullioned windows with ogival arches by Solari and Amadeo (second floor), which were proposed once more (in 1624) by Richini on the façade along Via Festa del Perdono, while the last phase of the work (1797-1804) would be dedicated to the central open gallery punctuated by columns and pilasters of sober neoclassical design.
In August 1943, Allied air raids totally destroyed the side of the building next to the present-day Via Francesco Sforza, the Richini courtyard and other parts of what was then the Ospedale Maggiore.
The University of Milan moved into Cà Granda in 1958, after the completion of the last major renovation project, the work of architects Piero Portaluppi and Liliana Grassi, which began in 1953.
The bond between Cà Granda and the city still remains strong in the eyes of the Milanese people, even if the role of the historic building has changed: knowledge, which was once associated with medical practice, is now in the hands of one of the largest and most prestigious universities in the country.
Today you can enter the University to visit the magnificent courtyards “della spezieria” (“of the Apothecary’s Workshop”), “dei Bagni delle donne” (“of the Ladies’ Bathroom”), “della Giazzeria” (“of the Icehouse”) and “della Legnaia” (“of the Woodshed”) that have been returned to their former splendour with the latest series of renovation works. At the entrance you can find the huge honorary courtyard where you can enjoy the vast extension of grass over the edge of which the students have to jump on their graduation day.
Moreover during the Milano design week the University gets full of artistic installations, transforming into an open air museum.