Domus 920 Special Bologna New City Station
The international competition held for Bologna Central Station’s New Integrated Complex has ended with Arata Isozaki the winner, picked by the jury headed by Gae Aulenti from the 12 finalist projects. So it is the Japanese architect who will be designing Bologna’s new intermodal hub.
Bologna is Italy’s fifth largest train station in terms of movements. But its key position in the sorting of traffic flows along the north-south axis makes it much more important. Hence the necessity to redesign the city’s railway station: above all, in view of the High Speed network under construction but also, more generally, within the perspective of a plan launched by the State Railways to renew the country’s stations. A redevelopment programme has already begun, with major projects such as those of Naples Afragola and Florence Belfiore, designed by Hadid and Foster respectively.
Like all nineteenth-century railway stations, that of Bologna requires contemporary architecture to bridge the rift in the city’s continuity caused by its presence. The positions of many of the old city railway stations, even more than their architectural aspect, state their adherence to a typically modern urban design. The density of cities today has caused architecture to envisage a different role for travel hubs, as means of connecting and integrating spaces rather than as elements of urban definition. The 12 finalists in the Bologna competition – UnStudio, Cruz y Ortiz, MBM Oriol Bohigas, SOM, MVRDV, 5+1, and Jean Nouvel, in addition to the winning group led by Isozaki, are perfectly familiar with the issues raised by these new scenes of mobility.
The Dutch MVRDV, together with 5+1 and the projects by Bohigas, Souto de Moura/Chipperfield and Boeri, concentrated decidedly on the theme of sewing up a homogeneous and continuous fabric within an urban context. These proposals, albeit in their different solutions, recognise themselves in the idea that to design the station complex means first of all to organically reconstruct a piece of city beginning from its fractured parts.
This vision is not shared by Cruz y Ortiz, whose project adopts a more markedly infrastructural approach, though it introduces the novelty of a reoriented main access to the east which opens the station to the city.
Conversely, the option pursued by Nouvel refutes any idea of stitching the parts back together. On the contrary, his project actually highlights the infrastructural break, while using the metaphor of a river to back the concept of a permeable limit that separates and at the same time unites different contexts. Nouvel shares with the projects by Ingerhoven, UnStudio and Ricci e Spaini (+ Ciorra) the search for a striking architectural landmark, indicated primarily by the verticality of structures echoing Bologna’s famous two towers, but also the old station by Ratti, with its now demolished tower.
Finally, Futura 787, the winning project directed by Isozaki (with Ove Arup and M+P & Partners) is presented as a closed but fascinating body. Defined as a “condensate of city”, it fits quietly and unobtrusively into the heart of Bologna, with no excessively high-rise volumes. The Japanese architect’s design suggests a reconstructed urban centrality for the specified zone, through the concepts of continuity, horizontality and decomposition.
Isozaki and Boeri, moreover, were the only ones to have attempted to establish a link between the future of Bologna Station and its tragic past. Boeri did so by calling the main volume of his project “Dieciventicinque”, i.e. the hour (10.25 am) in which the clock stopped on that dramatic morning of 2 August 1980; Isozaki by perforating the membrane of his structure with lacerations and apertures redolent of the physical and spiritual wounds inflicted by the bomb attack on the place and the city as a whole. But these darnings don’t really do much more than reveal the poverty of the remedy. There remains the rather surprising general indifference, especially by the Italian competitors, to the stratifications of sense accumulated in a place like Bologna Station, symbolically among the densest in recent Italian history. Architecture is a necessarily optimistic discipline, because it has to look to the future. However, I believe that designing the future can also be based on traces of a past not to be forgotten.