VOL. MMXIII..No. 208

Design We Love | The Badass and the Beautiful

Why Florence’s Stazione Santa Maria Novella is a Deco Masterpiece

 

 

 

Florence’s Santa Maria Novella train station is rarely noted when anyone tells you they visited this legendary Renaissance city. For many, the station is a rather grey and cold contrast to the ecclesiastical glory of the famous church that lies just across the station’s ragged parking lot of cars, buses, bicycles, and scooters.

 

Completed in 1935, the Stazione Santa Maria Novella is almost Stonehenge-like with its massive block of horizontal stone, broken only by a starkly modern interpretation of a waterfall made from paned glass panels. The grid of glass rises from the Art Deco extravagance of a front portico, and up and over the top of the building.

 


{ We love this station for the bold decadence of its purity — which may sound like an oxymoron but it’s not. }

 


 

While the station is often maligned as an example of fascist architecture, that’s not entirely true. Mussolini had no part in its design.

 

Led by Giovanni Michelucci of Gruppo Toscano, the building is less about fascism and more about rationalism, the idea of a purpose-built structure meant to redefine the role of train travel as being about linearity, modernism, and the power of technology and design.

 

We love this station for the bold decadence of its purity — which may sound like an oxymoron but it’s not.

 

The way so many straight lines, soaring glass ceilings and walls, and authoritative signage can give a sense of monumentalism and order in such a glorious fashion. And while most of its original purpose-built design programming is no longer relevant to today’s world, we still like to imagine what it must have been like in 1935, and enter that hall and see such a soaring symphony of white light, terrazzo, marble, and brass. It’s the kind of Art Deco architecture where you imagine you hear music.

 

To call the station a terminal is far too pessimistic. In our view, the station will always be about great expectations. An arrival, a departure, and the unknown that awaits us just beyond.

 

 

 

The station is flooded with light via a massive transom of steel framed glass panes which begin on the outer wall of the portico and rising over the ticketing hall and out to the platform.

 

The station’s wayfinding and use of of bold signage adds to the dramatic sense of purpose. Top right, an example of the original photographs which were installed in 1935, as if to remind Italians of the possibility train travel can offer in seeing the country’s landmarks.

 

At top, the main halls feature broad striped slabs of marble in white and ochre, echoing the linear lines of the building’s overall theme. Below, an example of the dozens of purpose-built rooms throughout the station.

 

One of the most remarkable features of the station is its avant-garde (at the time) digital style clock on the building’s exterior.

 

A view into the ticketing hall, and the cascading skylight which drops down and over the exterior portico.

All photographs © 2017 b. on brand LLC.

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