Transition spaces are said to be the first noticeable spaces in any building. These spaces may be the entrance foyers, courtyards, atriums, podiums, etc. Such spaces have dominance over the comprehensive architecture of the building. These spaces could be ornamented but also serve certain useful purposes in the building. Transition spaces are both indoor, outdoor, and/or semi-open. Such spaces have been described to boost educational and learning surroundings in campuses, as mentioned in renowned books like Campus Design in India by Ar. Achyut Kanvinde. One such trending example of learning & working in transition spaces is at the Bocconi University in Milan designed by SANAA. 

Milanese palazzi informs about the wrap green courtyards at Bocconi University, designed by SANAA - Sheet1
Bocconi University-Facade 1_©Federico Fermeglia
Milanese palazzi informs about the wrap green courtyards at Bocconi University, designed by SANAA - Sheet2
Prototype model of Bocconi university design_©Domus

The headline, ‘SANAA’s courtyard-filled campus for Bocconi University is informed by Milanese Palazzi’ has taken over the architectural news in recent years. The Milanese Palazzi makes a headline focussing the courtyards that steal the show on this campus. The Bocconi University exhibits the characteristics of Milanese architecture such as courtyards. The courtyards are important to regulate the flow of air and also create a visual and aesthetical balance of masses on-site plan design. The natural lighting in the interiors of a structure are also regulated by the help of properly designed transitional spaces. The ventilation can also be enhanced by spaces such as open to sky courtyards. The 350,000 square meters of the site, formerly used as a milk processing plant, is designed by SANAA as an extended campus for Bocconi University in Milan, Italy. SANAA released its plans and prototype for the Bocconi University campus in 2012 and opened the finished site for the public in 2019. Instead of covering the site with heavy concrete masses, the Bocconi campus design is integrated with porticos, courtyards, landscaped routes, balconies, and other such green transitional spaces. 

Milanese palazzi informs about the wrap green courtyards at Bocconi University, designed by SANAA - Sheet3
Bocconi University Campus_©SDA Bocconi School of Management

The extended university campus is inclusive of dormitories, management school, recreation center, and learning spaces for other programs offered at the university. SANAA’s design was to imbibe the calm and elegance of the park into the campus and design it as a single unit within the park. The structural systems used in the structures are also designed to reduce rifts in the see-through design. The south of the campus occupies a three-story sports complex with an Olympic-sized swimming pool placed in the basement and a sports court on the upper levels. The ground floors of the volumes are lined with porticos which provide interactive learning spaces, which are a prime feature of the learning environment in campus design. The four buildings to the northeast of campus are allotted to the business school.

Milanese palazzi informs about the wrap green courtyards at Bocconi University, designed by SANAA - Sheet4
Bocconi University campus transition spaces_©

The campus has volumes of structures that are free-flowing curves in facades cladded with perforated white screens. Not just the facade but the plan form is also a play of curves, both on-site and building levels. A central courtyard is designed in each fluid-shaped block which is a typical feature of Milanese architecture. Even the interiors have been designed to match the curve features from the facade and design forms. The whole campus is infused with a singular homogenous character whilst creating an identity for each of the individual courtyards between each volume.

The campus design by SANAA has taken measures for energy saving and low consumption by incorporating features such as rooftop solar panels, rainwater recycling systems, insulated walls, etc.  All the buildings on campus are medium-high so as to minimize disruption to the flow of air around the campus. The walls are translucent in nature to maximize naturally lit interiors. All floors are surrounded by balconies running along the perimeter which are then flushed with a facade of perforated metal. 

The perforated facade with diamond-shaped cutouts is said to take over an opaque facade so the visual relationship with the city is not broken. The white screen facade highlights the building perfectly well during both the day and the night, lighting up with a silver glow. At the ground floor level, the mesh facade is opened exposing the glass walls to the green cover. The glass walls are placed alternating to opaque masses which project outside as a shading device. 

Bocconi University building interior_©

The campus design is summed up to camouflage the surroundings in aspects of both design and user experience. The design focuses on the user experience through characteristics such as the connective transitional spaces between blocks, the hangout spaces within the campus, the spaces surrounding activities, and detailing in materials. The facade captures the spectator’s attention at first sight of the campus. The Bocconi University campus designed by SANAA is one excellent example of ideal campus planning within a concept and individual character development of learning spaces ideal for a university campus. 


Pranjali is a fresher architect & a keen explorer. She finds tranquility in nature, traveling, reading, writing & architecture, altogether & discretely. She is fascinated by contemporary vernacular & sustainable style of architecture & hopes to promote it through her writing someday.