The railway yards and their long perimeter walls, as well as derelict industrial sites, have been a perfect environment for street art to take off in this area. The Lambrate and Ortica districts have always been socially aware, nurturing alternative culture.
In 2015, the City of Milan launched the “Muri Liberi” (Free Walls) initiative, which involved the mapping of existing murals and provided spaces where new ones could be made. Since then, the creative impetus of street artists has become ever more vivid and articulate.
The unwritten law of free walls is that there is no guarantee of longevity for the murals, because they can be covered by new works at any time. While this approach may seem unfair, it does give an immediate and urgent appeal to the works because they are inherently temporary.
Quite different from the free-wall murals idea, the avant-garde OrMe project is an acronym for Ortica Memories. Launched in 2017, this is a participatory street art project that has transformed the Ortica district into a veritable open-air museum.
It all started on Liberation Day in 2015, when it was decided to create a special mural under the nearby Buccari flyover. This initiative led to the idea of recording the history of the 20th century, told through the faces and words of its protagonists.
It was a creative way to promote the ideals of peace, democracy and solidarity.
Within a few years, OrMe led to the completion of no less than twenty murals. Each one focuses on a specific theme, such as workers’ cooperatives, legality, Milanese folk songwriters, immigration, the Resistance, women in the 20th century, sport and scientific research.
Each mural is site-specific, designed specifically for that portion of the wall. Also, the use of the spolvero technique means that several people can be involved, under the coordination of the creator of the work.
Other murals in the project are, for example, the Duomo dell’Ortica. This is an immense work that extends over several walls and buildings in Via Pitteri. Five murals dedicated to the symbol of Milan, each depicting a part of Milan’s cathedral.
The depiction of the nave is really a sight to see, executed on a 1:2 scale and therefore 23 metres in height, while the enormous reproduction of the Madonnina is the largest ever painted in the world.
The adjoining neighbourhood of Lambrate also features futuristic murals, such as the one in Via Viotti.
In 2019, a large-scale anti-smog mural was created to speak up about the pollution of the seas and oceans. The image depicts marine species trapped in a plastic bottle with an oil rig inside.
A special paint called Airlite was used on the mural; it is able to absorb airborne pollution and in fact reduces nitrogen dioxide in the air by almost 90%.
A new Lambrate street art project called “Lambrate sui muri” (Lambrate on the walls) has been commissioned by Cohabitat, a social housing cooperative active in the area since 1988.
The inner courtyard walls and outer walls of buildings become canvases for murals by Matilde Arduini and Simone Peracchi. These works tell the story of Lambrate, focusing on the historic industries and the railways. The intention is to show how the past links to the present.
We couldn’t finish without mentioning the street art in Lambretta Park in the Rubattino area. It starts with Andreas Kipar and Giovanni Sala’s installation of an artificial stretch of water between the support pillars of Milan’s Tangenziale Est ring road. But it is the street artists, such as Irwin and Pao, who give the finishing touches, embellishing the pillars with works that are now iconic and have been immortalised in countless photographs.
The outcome is that a previously derelict, neglected space has become meaningful and evocative, partially on account of the murals, duplicated by their reflections in the water below.