How high-rise living is taking hold in Italy’s cities

In Milan and Rome, new residential towers are mixing modern design with in-demand amenities.

December 05, 2019

Across Italy’s major cities, its historic buildings are getting new neighbours – high-rise modern apartment blocks targeting young professionals and young families.

In Milan, the Porta Nuova is in the midst of a building boom, with the much-lauded Bosco Verticale – twin residential towers adorned with vegetation – from U.S. developer Hines and investor Coima, the centrepiece. Nearby, the Aria and Solaria towers – the latter the tallest residential building in Italy – offer roof gardens, leisure amenities and views of the Alps.

In Rome, more modern projects are in the works, such as developer Green Stone’s Uptown Gardens scheme and the Leone Fund’s Porta dei Leoni project, due for completion in 2021.

The construction of new schemes with their glass facades is a “sharp contrast to Italy’s existing stock”, explains Antonio Fuoco, head of Living Capital Markets at JLL Italy.

“The two styles of course complement each other well. But more importantly, it widens the offer for those with their eye on Italy’s major cities.”

Demand at present is also split into two defined camps.

“While classic apartments have typically attracted buyers from Asian and North America who seek out traditional Italian architecture, these new modern apartments are popular with domestic buyers - who come from a rich vein of home ownership,” says Fuoco.

A nation of homebuyers

Italy’s high home ownership rate of around 70 percent makes apartment sales rather than rentals more likely.

“Not all schemes in Rome or Milan will automatically be luxury and high-end,” says Fuoco. “And that is a good thing, given that major Italian cities share many of the characteristics that their European peers are challenged by right now, such as population growth and the need to accommodate professionals seeking homes near to work.”

It’s also why, for now, sub-sectors such as co-living and micro-apartments are yet to emerge, given their close links to professionally-managed rented living. However, as Fuoco explains, that could change as a new generation of more mobile professionals seek out more flexibility and become reluctant to commit to home ownership.

“Renting appeals to those who are unsure of their long-term plans or find pricing is out of reach – something that inevitably starts from the first ring of the city,” Fuoco says. “But with interest rates low at present, buying is still the main tenure.”

Driving regeneration

The emergence of high-rise schemes is helping to rejuvenate previously overlooked parts of Italy’s major cities. In 2019, Lendlease signed an agreement to develop the Milano Innovation District on the site of Milan’s Expo 2015 in a mixed-use scheme incorporating residential properties, offices and retail.

Infrastructure improvements are also bringing new districts into focus, with work under way on a fifth metro line connecting Milan’s Linate airport with Piazza San Babila in 14 minutes.

Yet in historic cities such as Rome, opportunities for new residential developments in central locations are rarer, Fuoco points out. Nevertheless, some regeneration plans do include new homes, such as those for the Italian capital’s former trade halls, Fiera di Roma.

Catering for today’s professionals

While demand is growing for modern apartment living in many of Italy’s cities, it’s Milan, the country’s financial centre and home to major employers from Google and Microsoft to Deloitte and research giant Gartner, that developers are largely focusing on – at least for now.

“Milan continues to attract talent from the worlds of finance, food and fashion,” says Fuoco. “These people want and expect a certain level of quality when moving here.

“Equally, the city appeals very much to young Italian professionals seeking centrally-located apartments. Many will perhaps have lived or studied abroad in cities where towers are more common than has been the case here in Italy.”

And while Italian cities will always pride themselves on their historic architecture, changing tastes and growing urban populations mean modern schemes will bring a fresh edge to traditional skylines.

“It’s a new trend for sure, but with the number of modern schemes gradually increasing, the likes of Milan will look quite different 10 years from now,” concludes Fuoco.


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