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Pierfranco Galliani

Art as a prerequisite for integration and recovery

The former Paolo Pini Psychiatric Hospital in Milan

The images are drawn in the thesis by Giussani W. Architecture, Scaglia M., 'From Segregation to Integration. Urban transformation of the area of the former Psychiatric Hospital Paolo Pini in Milan', supervisor Galliani P., Politecnico di Milano, School of Architecture and Society, a.a. 2010-11 - ZOOM

The images are drawn in the thesis by Giussani W. Architecture, Scaglia M., "From Segregation to Integration. Urban transformation of the area of the former Psychiatric Hospital Paolo Pini in Milan", supervisor Galliani P., Politecnico di Milano, School of Architecture and Society, a.a. 2010-11


The former Paolo Pini Psychiatric Hospital in Milan is paradigmatic of a self-referential morphological model extraneous to the surrounding setting, one embodied in a pavilion system in accordance with a precise functional diagram for the treatment of mental illnesses. After the approval of the law for the closure of psychiatric hospitals, a process of spontaneous re-functionalization generated a profound innovation in the environmental image of the place through art as a social service.


The former Paolo Pini Psychiatric Hospital in Milan is paradigmatic of a self-referential morphological model, extraneous to the surrounding setting, representing the elaboration of an evident conjunction between functionalist matrices and principles of architectural layout.

The period when it was built, 1921-24, marked the central phase of the process that between the nineteenth and twentieth century devised close ties between function and form, between the assumptions of segregational treatment and the features of insane asylum architecture, coinciding with the establishment of the Fascist regime, which gradually came to strengthen these ties.

A specific subset of generalist hospital structures and their specialized evolution, psychiatric hospitals largely adopted the pavilion morphology as an exemplary design, effective in the treatment of diseases. The system made it possible to identify in the individual building types that comprised it direct correspondences with the activities necessary to its purpose, in accordance with a precise internal functional scheme.

In architectural complexes for psychiatry, the layout based on independent buildings was based on a clear separation of patients by gender, the nature of their pathology and the intensity of the therapies applied. Isolation became one real parameter in the conception of space, so connecting the hygienic issue with that of the urban location.

The layout of the Paolo Pini Psychiatric Hospital has in particular a grid pattern, crossed by a central axis of symmetry along which are arranged the buildings housing the general services: administration, kitchen, laundry. At the sides, rotated 45° to the main axis, are the observation and treatment pavilions, separate for men and women. The pavilions are inserted into a system of open spaces lined by paths bordered by closely planted rows of trees.

The central axis cannot be used as an open space and the fragmentation of the outdoor areas into allocated spaces negates the potential for elaborating an identity of the place and hence promoting socialization among the inmates. The effect of this fragmented and disjointed layout is made more acute by the original idea that the institution should be “almost an aggregate of so many small asylums, harmoniously arranged.”[1]

The principle of isolation was also expressed in the new psychiatric hospitals by their removal from the body of the historic city. The locations favored were along the outer belts of suburban areas, verging on the countryside, endowed with extensive spaces for future expansion, well ventilated and sunny, with large open spaces for gardens and agricultural activities. Exercise of the body as a necessary condition for healing completed the fundamentals of what was considered a modern psychiatric hospital: a “closed system,” a “heterotopic place,”[2] in which the perimeter fence became a metaphor for separation and exclusion.

Conforming to these principles, the Paolo Pini Hospital was located in Affori, on the northern outskirts of the city of Milan. Its complete immersion in the countryside underscored the characters of social isolation and estrangement from its surrounding setting.[3] The morphological pavilion structure embodied the mechanical contrivance of maximum control, responding to the demand for order. This had already been imposed in the planning of cities in the nineteenth century through criteria of regularity, repetition, hierarchy and separation, leading to the definition of specialized structures such as barracks , abattoirs and hospitals.

Work on the extension of the hospital in the 1950s led to a first variation on its original organization, with the introduction of a new pavilion to the south, completely alien to its original layout matrix. The break with the symmetrical layout of the plan led to further alterations between the end of the same decade and the 1960s, with the construction of two new pavilions and other smaller edifices to the northeast.[4]

The 1960s saw the start of a phase of transformation of the surrounding complex in Affori. New road infrastructure was installed with extensive residential developments and the construction nearby of a vocational school, considerably eroding the extensive natural setting that the City of Milan assigned to the hospital for carrying out agricultural activities.

The debate over reforming the Italian asylum system began while the Paolo Pini Hospital was still an “efficient machine”[5] for compulsory psychiatric hospitalization. The subsequent approval of Law 180 of 1978, known as the “Basaglia Reform,” which required the gradual closure of all psychiatric hospitals, was the start of a process of progressively dismantling the hospital. This process was officially completed in 1998.

On the one hand, in the 1980s changes in the functions of the pavilions made it possible to insert a middle school, diagnostic and outpatient services for the local health authority, as well as the activation of “open” therapeutic care communities in place of psychiatric divisions of the traditional type.[6] On the other hand, there was a process of spontaneous refunctionalization, with the significant presence of associations which, with pedagogical and educational purposes, often in symbiosis with the institutional presence, presented professional courses, cultural initiatives and art workshops. These included which the MAPP, the Paolo Pini Art Museum, and management facilities for some new services.[7]

Considerable fragmentation and discontinuity was introduced into the distribution of the activities as a result of the sequence of alterations and subdivisions into different properties and competences of use between public bodies, favored by the original pavilion layout. At the same time, there was a surprising innovation in the environmental image of the place created by contemporary art, with works by Italian and foreign artists placed out of doors and inside some of the pavilions.

In the case of the Paolo Pini facility, a realistic process of future architectural and environmental recovery should be implemented through the necessary architectural measures to explore the possibility of opening up the fence that at present segregates the complex and, by building new parts from scratch to mediate a credible relation between the fabric of the hospital and the neighboring built-up areas. These have grown up in the meantime amid a kind of reciprocal indifference. But it should be noted that this cannot happen without considering the “enhanced value” that art has added to the complex.

A twofold operation is intended to make reclamation of the complex and physical modifications interact with the preservation of the cultural heritage accumulated to date. This appears as a conscious and active approach that goes beyond the stereotypes of general transformational reuse.

Works by over 140 artists, conceived on the site since 1993, collected and preserved by MAPP since 1995, represent a totally original specific value that distinguishes the former hospital from the exhibition and documentary functions acquired by other former psychiatric hospitals, which have become the museums of themselves, often little frequented places commemorating their own past.[8] Presented in collaboration with the Department of Mental Health of the Ospedale Niguarda, developed and raised through the activity of the Arca association,[9] the MAPP fully represents a positive interpretation of the “Basaglia Reform”, here designed to “rediscover the human value of those affected by very serious psychological disorders, to integrate them into social and cultural life, while overcoming the barriers that still segregate them in a separate world.”[10]

Today the museum is made up of a permanent collection that comprises murals, installations and sculptures set in the garden spaces, on the facades of the building and inside some pavilions, and a collection of works performed by artists together with the patients. “The works made directly on the walls of the former asylum are an expression of the intrinsic value embodied in every person, even when seriously ill in body or mind.”[11] But the principal value of the program lies in the “direct interpersonal relationship between artists and patients,” in which the former are part of a “multi-professional team consisting of psychiatrists, psychologists and art therapists by which they produce ‘four-handed works’ with the patients.”[12]

Testimony to a profound transformation of the methods of treatment, “which are also performed through a specific aesthetic quality of the space, expressing the richness of symbolic values of the person,”[13] the MAPP’s premises are the gallery-space devised in Pavilion 7 and inaugurated in 2000 to host temporary art exhibitions involved in therapeutic projects, cultural events and a part of the collection. It is from this nucleus, where “art is social service,” that is the starting point for the search for a centrality that was always denied, both mentally and physically, in the old psychiatric hospital.


- Civita A., Cosenza D. (eds.), La cura della malattia mentale. Storia ed epistemologia, Bruno Mondadori, Milan 1999.

- Devoti C., “‘Femmine e uomini che delirano senza febbre’: luoghi e modelli per la segregazione degli alienati,” ’AΝΑΓΚΗ, 54, pp. 99-107, 2008.

- Garavaglia G. F. and N., Un secolo di assistenza psichiatrica nella Provincia di Milano, S.Ti.E.M., Milan 1964.

- Ientile R., “Per non dimenticare: architettura come memoria scomoda della ‘follia’,” in ’AΝΑΓΚΗ, 54, pp. 82-98, 2008.

- Crippa M. A., Sironi V. A. (eds.), Niguarda. Un ospedale per l’uomo nel nuovo millennio. Arte e storia della cura alla Ca’ Granda di Milano, Silvana Editoriale, Cinisello Balsamo 2009, pp. 162.

- Ripamonti L., Affori: mille anni di storia, La Buona Parola, Milan 1995.

[1] Garavaglia G. F. and N., Un secolo di assistenza psichiatrica nella Provincia di Milano, S.Ti.E.M., Milan 1964, p.59.

[2] Archetti M., Lo spazio ritrovato. Antropologia della contemporaneità, Meltemi, Rome, 2002.

[3] The reference to the agricultural settlement model, initially declared, apparently merely recalls the assumptions of the newly founded villages.

[4] A church, a mortuary and accommodation for nuns.

[5] The level of functional independence was very marked: farming and domestic handicrafts made the institution self-sufficient in food and made a substantial contribution to its overall finances.

[6] The plan was approved by the Lombardy Region in 1986.

[7] The MAPP grew out of the activities of the Arca non-profit association, active since 1986. The Giardino degli Aromi non-profit associations founded in 2003, runs horticultural courses, already present in other forms since 1999. The non-profit social cooperative La Fabbrica di Olinda, active since 1999, runs a café, restaurant and catering services, a hostel installed in the former nuns' accommodation, and theatrical activities.

[8] The MAPP is the artistic section of the Niguarda Regional Hospital of Psychiatry, which also includes a clinical section of “Paolo Pini”, consisting of the Archives of Clinical Folders (1944-2002) and the Archives of the 'Historical Atelier V. Bianchini (1981-2002).

[9] The association Arca Onlus, founded by Teresa Melorio, a psychiatrist, and Enza Baccei, a psychotherapist, took part in the planning, programming and operational phase of the MAPP Museum of Art Paolo Pini and the Art Museums, proposing As a theoretical, methodological and technical reference for art therapy activities.


[11] Ibidem.

[12] Melorio T., Baccei E., “Arte e psiche: il Museo d’Arte Paolo Pini e le Botteghe d’Arte,” in Crippa M. A., Sironi V. A. (eds.), Niguarda. Un ospedale per l’uomo nel nuovo millennio. Arte e storia della cura alla Ca’ Granda di Milano, Silvana Editoriale, Cinisello Balsamo 2009, p. 162.


Pierfranco Galliani (1951), an architect, was formed by Franco Albini and Franca Helg in the seventies, he teaches Architectural Design since 1994 at Politecnico di Milano, where he is professor in the Department of Architecture and Urban Studies in 2016. In the same university, he is professor of the School of Specialization in Architectural Heritage and Landscape since 2011; he was coordinator of the PhD in Architectural and Urban Design from 2013 to 2016. He has published writings and conducted research on the critical continuity between history and project, the innovation of the characters of collective architecture, and the scale values in urban design.

Pavilion 4: Stefano Pizzi, 'Flower out pumpkin', 1995 - ZOOM

Pavilion 4: Stefano Pizzi, "Flower out pumpkin", 1995