Run, Johnnie, run

1957-1966
Pirelli Skyscraper, Milan, Italy*

It’s a pastime. They also say it’s a drug. It’s my thing. I like jogging, by myself. I’m no loner, have plenty of friends and like being with them. But when running, I like being on my own, feeling my body, the way it gladly strains as I take in the scenery. Uphill is the best. True, others see it tearing their muscles, heart and breath beating out of control. When you get to the top, though, what you see below is exhilarating.

Sure, sure, finding uphill runs in Milan is no mean feat. This is where I was born, grew up and now work. I’m an architect. Ever since my student days I’ve had a hero: Gio Ponti architect extraordinaire, eclectic, severe. Italian design since World War II is much in his debt. Indeed, when you say Gio Ponti here in Milan, you say Pirellone. It was built sixty years ago, and for much of that span it was the tallest reinforcedconcrete skyscraper in Milan and Europe. And when talk turns to Pirellone, I think of my father. As a quantity surveyor, he was part of the construction crew that built it. Dad retired long ago. But his memories of building the Pirellone are quite distinct still. When it was begun in 1956, he was young and full of enthusiasm. Every day before going home he’d wander round the site to see what techniques were being used and how the work was progressing. He would always talk about the floating floor. The first in Italy, it’s eightythousand square metres of linoleum and Pirelli rubber bonded to Masonite panels with Mapei’s Adesilex 3. Dad also speaks highly and often of Mapei. He says that had it not been for that adhesive, even Gio Ponti might have run into hard-to-solve problems.

The Pirelli Skyscraper is close to my office. Ever since I started running and took to uphill courses, I’ve eyed it. Running to the top was my dream. So, when they held the first vertical sprint up the Pirelli Tower a few years ago, I was the first to sign up. These up-the-stair-races started in the U.S., home of the skyscraper, and later arrived in Italy. I wore a runner ID of No.1 on my chest the day of the race. I was thrilled. A run to the top of a building designed by my professional hero. It doesn’t get any better. I didn’t win, but that’s beside the point. Mine was a run for the history of architecture. Unforgettable. When I came down after finishing, there were only a few onlookers still in the square before the Tower. To one side, a few paces away from them, stood my dad. Glancing upwards, his gaze was fixed on the Pirellone. A thin smile crossed his lips.

“Let’s go home. We’ve done it”.

* Mapei has been a frequent visitor to the Pirelli Skyscraper since 1956. It took part in the complex restoration works needed to preserve and upgrade the building’s structure after a light air-craft struck it in 2002, causing the death of 3 people and injuring 70. Mapei was again at the site in 2005 to restore the glass mosaic façade, and to work on the internal and external floors and for the static upgrading of the reinforced concrete structure. Redoing the tower’s interior flooring was a major job of its own. The primary requisites were preserving the features of its ‘historical character’, refurbishing the chromatic scheme to its original sheen and upgrading durability. Fundamental to the entire job was the laying of the rubber flooring that Gio Ponti had so painstakingly designed in the1960s.

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