The Santa Maria Novella train station in Florence is now considered one of the masterpieces of Italian rationalist architecture. When it first opened to the public in the 1930s, however, its innovative quality was not universally appreciated.
The intellectuals of the time disagreed on the new complex, built according to the principles of modern functionality – so distant from the pompous ideals of Mussolini’s regime – by the so-called “Gruppo Toscano”, a team of designers led by Giovanni Michelucci.
One of the most vocal critics of the new station was journalist and art critic Ugo Ojetti, who championed conservative architecture and opposed rationalism with such vigor that he earned the nickname “His Excellency Arches and Columns”.
The young intellectuals who usually met at the historical café “Le Giubbe Rosse” in Piazza della Repubblica, instead, were enthused by the new station. The group included novelist Elio Vittorini, who was so fond of traveling that he once said, “If I had had the means to travel constantly, I don’t think I would have ever written a single word”.
Another fan was Alessandro Bonsanti, who commented that Florence’s new station told “with great realism the story of everyday events, described with severity of converging lines and shapes, creating the reality that contains them”.
Indeed the lines and shapes of the station – as well as the surviving furnishings that can still be seen today: Nello Baroni’s electric clocks, some benches, the type of the bronze signage, the crystal windows separating the clerks from the public, the photographic panels with views of the city – make up a striking example of timeless, modern taste.
And so today, after over eighty years, Santa Maria Novella is definitely still the “new train station” in Florence.