LOCATION Bologna, Italy
YEAR 1983
STATUS Competiton
DESIGNERS Antonio Monestiroli, Sandro Cobertaldo, Paolo Rizzatto
TEAM  Roberto Agostini, Alberto Bonadonna, Bruno Borghesani, Alberto Gerola, Isabella Lagomarsino, Cristina Manzoni, Luigi Mascheroni, Giorgio Masiani, Mario Moscatelli, Alberto Pezzola, Valerio Turra

The typological definition of a building depends on the theme and the characters of the context. The theme in question is about building a place that is both a place for passengers and trains. All other functions are complementary to this relationship. We can say that the theme in our days has not yet identified itself into a building type to be referred to. It is necessary to investigate it further in order to arrive at the definition of a suitable building, having stable and repeatable characters. The history of this building bears witness to how the relationship between passengers and trains has strongly conditioned, down to the stylistic characters, its construction. The parts of the building intended for one and the other are built in distinct forms, with two different technologies expressed in different forms down to the last detail.

Two formal systems that refer to two worlds, the world of civic life and the world of technology, as separate worlds. This split is characteristic of the nineteenth-century culture that invented this type of building and built the most beautiful examples defined through this relationship-contradiction between large metal roofs and passenger service buildings built in the same forms as theaters, city halls, etc. After the construction of the great nineteenth-century stations, the theme lost its identity. The abandonment of large canopies and their replacement by canopies reduced the importance of the place of trains; the relationship was reduced to its utilitarian characters, losing all evocative qualities. But the magic of the 19th-century station is no longer reproducible; it belongs to the culture of that century. Today we know that the constructive act of the engineer and the architect is unique and that the forms in which it is to be performed (for one and the other) are those that best suit it. Therefore, it is necessary to redefine the characters of the building type by rethinking the form of the place in which the relationship between the different functions belonging to the theme is realized. Our choice in this regard is for the station site to be as unified and undivided as under the great roofs of the nineteenth century. The transit station poses an issue that conditions its layout: the need to cross the tracks. Considering that the track bundle divides the city into two parts, just like a river, the transit station must take on the task of reconnecting the two separate parts. This function is usually performed by a system of underpasses, as far as internal traffic is concerned, and often remains unresolved as far as the city as a whole is concerned. Solving this problem without contradicting the basic choices means discarding any solution in which the two worlds, of passengers and trains, remain separate. The choice made is of a system of bridges connected to each other by two longitudinal paths that identify a series of successive courts where the bridges face each other reestablishing the relationship with the trains. The image is reminiscent of river stretches in the center of large European cities, where two levels of traffic intersect in a very similar way. Similarly, the scheme we proposed involves the intersection of two levels of traffic, pedestrian and rail, establishing a mutual relationship under one large canopy. We tried to test this hypothesis with the place where the station is to be built. The place aspires to be a new center of polycentric Bologna, a place crossed by the great road system that connects all the centers of the Via Emilia axis, a system of both rail and road traffic that passes between the historic center and the expansion to the north. Thus a building placed in this area takes on the importance of the great public buildings built on the decumanus, in the center of ancient Bologna, with the task of connecting the two cities divided by the passage of the railroad. The street system of the fabric to the north (Bolognina) can be connected, through the station bridges, with the street system to the south. The regularity of the Bolognina’s street system establishes the regular pitch of the bridges and the construction of three identical and successive courts. Among these, an arcaded street is both an access road to the station and a transit route from one part of the city to another. The result is a system that takes the measures of the city’s northern layout and neatly connects the two parts, bypassing the tracks that in turn ensure its connection with all the other centers of the polycentric city. We believe that with respect to the new dimensions of our intervention, seeking a relationship with the current square is reductive and substantially out of scale. This is why the relationship of the station to the square can be established with the building that currently faces it, renovated to accommodate the new railwaymen’s hotel. The strong intermingling of functions related to the railway station with the commercial functions indicated in the announcement seems more due to financial reasons than to real functional needs. While accepting this fact, it is necessary to prevent these functions from becoming hegemonic, turning the station into a large commercial center. This danger is real and is evidenced by the many stations built recently in Europe whose typological recognition is difficult due to the prevalence of the commercial function. On the contrary, the principle should be kept firm that commercial functions should be referred to the functions of the railway station, which remain the primary functions entrusted to determine the building type. In this regard, the choice has been made to construct a layout that is as clear as possible and capable of identifying the theme, within which great elasticity is guaranteed, that is, the possibility of adding or removing the various complementary functions. In fact, if the general structure of the bridges is fixed (connections with the iron plane, the distribution galleries, the arcaded road that crosses the whole system transversally) each bridge can then be set up with light prefabricated elements, glazed walls, movable partitions, etc., so as to allow for the different and successive changes that prove necessary. Thus, two structures are distinguished, one defining the general layout, the other, contained in the former, accommodating specific functions according to the quantities and relationship ratios required by the competition announcement. Each bridge groups related functions, and in this way specializes: the bridge of the station, offices, warehouses, services, etc., all connected to each other by a system of continuous galleries. Only the railwaymen’s hotel remains outside the system of bridges and, as we have seen, is located in a part of the present renovated station. The construction of the three courts relies on three elements that in mutual relation distinguish and identify the place. The first element is the large bridge support that contains the rises from the tracks (stairs, escalators, elevators). The succession of these elements defines at the same time the base of the bridges and the location of the trains: a series of successive tunnels interspersed with the covered courts. These elements are made of reinforced concrete, covered with the same stone with which the train platforms are paved. This system, sidewalks-supports, builds the plinth of the whole building and is the seat of the trains. The second element is the bridge distribution gallery, which is built with iron pillars and defines the courts on all their sides. The choice of iron is not only a reference to the great nineteenth-century stations, which still remain the most beautiful examples of this building type, but stems from the specific construction requirements, considerable spans, large glazed walls, etc. Finally, the third element is the flat structure covering the courts (128 × 175 m). A steel space structure covered with glass that builds the large light roof that gives unity to the courts and contains all the station’s activities underneath. The relationship between these three elements-the bridge supports, the continuous walkways, and the roof-constructs the identity of the place to which the trains are complementary. The building has no real front. The long side facing the historic center is built with a system of two parallel longitudinal paths, the inner gallery and a long outer porch, between which a narrow body of the building contains the lifts, services, and some retail spaces. The long arcaded road (about 540 m), built of iron, connects all the bridges to each other and is connected to the city elevation by five brick towers, each placed at a bridge, which contain stairs and freight elevators. Only at the porticoed street that crosses the station do the towers double to indicate that point. On the historic city the building thus faces two elements that have always belonged to it: the arcaded street and the towers, confirming their meaning in the modern city. The result is a large unified building that is at the same time a place of train transit and a system of crossing tracks at that point. This intersection established the form of the building, a form that must be able to translate an urban function into a cognitive experience, as is the case in any accomplished architecture. In a place that by vocation will become one of the most important centers of the city of new dimensions.


Massimo Ferrari (edit by) Antonio Monestiroli Opere, progetti e studi di architettura Electa Milan 2001

Francesco Moschini (edit by) Antonio Monestiroli Progetti 1967-1987  Edizioni Kappa Rome 1988