Old vs. contemporary. What’s the best architecture?


When I host friends from abroad, especially from the USA, I usually got questioned about the size of our cars. As a matter fo fact cars here in Italy are, in most of the cases, smaller than those which are commonly sold in the USA. As far as I know the best selling car in Italy is Panda, produed by FIAT and, more recently, FIAT 500, which also is one of the symbols of the Italian ability in design. Both these models are pretty small in comparison to the big cars that circulates in the USA.

The reason behind it deals with the narrow alleys and the lack of parkings inside the historic centres of our cities which make it easier to circulate for small-sized cars. Most of our cities, in fact, are among the oldest in the world, thus the streets and the overall city plans were mapped in eras when cars did not exist, all routes were pedestrians or limited to car pulled by horses, thus there was no need to create big avenues. When Napoleon conquered Northern Italy something changed as he brought to Italy the concept of the French “Grandeur”, so that entire city areas were demolished to give room for spacious boulevards. However Napoleon, who was very fond of the classic arts and arcitecture, left most of our city centres untouched.

This is pretty much what happened to my city, Torino. The whole city centre called “the squared city” is made of very narrow streets, still recalling the shape of the former Roman village called Iulia Augusta Taurinorum which was a perfect chessboard, while around this area a large number of very spacious boulevards were designed to connect all the most important highlights of the city. Thankfully, the process happened by respecting the original design of the baroque city, conveived to be a major European Capital, by the local dinasty: the House of Savoy.

It goes without saying that our cities mix both very old and very modern architectures, in some cases in a very good way, in some others without respecting the overall city shape and allure, which, from my point of view, ruined a bit the atmosphere. Torino is a blessed city in this respect. Most of the conteporary architectures are well inserted within the city context and allow keeping the original elegance by also experimenting contemporary and innovative architecture.

In Torino there are 4 major train stations: Torino Porta Nuova, Torino Porta Susa (both in the city centre), Torino Lingotto to the south ad Torino Stura to the north.

Torino Porta Nuova – Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

Torino Porta Nuova is the oldest train station of the city as well as one of the oldest of Italy, nowadays the third busiest on a national scale. Built between 1861 and 1864 as the main railway hub of the Country, immediately after the unification into the former Kingdom of Italy, the station reflects the traditional architectural design of the era by mixing innovative features such as the complete separation between the departure and the arrival areas (like for the modern airports) and a huge round ceiling where trains were parked before departure.

Torino Porta Nuova – Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

The entrance doors were in line with the decorative style of the era, thus they recall some Liberty style (art nouveau) features, very well preserved, as well some romaneque and neo gothic ones such as the large round windows on the facade.

Torino Porta nuova, entry gate – Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

Torino Porta nuova recently underwent a huge restoration process led by the overall Italian Initiative called “Grandi Stazioni” which provided the busiest train stations of the Country with a number of assets that turned them from mere transport hubs into important commercial areas inclusive of shops, restaurants, car rentals and other tourist services.

On the other hand, the second most important train station of the city is a very modern one: Torino Porta Susa. The original railway connection between Torino, Milan and France was also conceived and put in place in an era when the city was not yet as big as it is today, thus through the decades the tracks where running right in the middle of the city, until approximately 30 years ago a new urban planning committee decided to take advantage of the new High Speed Trains technology, which also requires more modern tracks, to change completely the entire city railway system and the way it impacts on the city centre. Therefore the original historic Porta Susa Station was abandoned and a new very modern train station was built.

Torino Porta Susa – Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

Porta Susa is built over the so called “Passante” which is a system that allowed to bury the railway tracks by creating a wide space on the surface where the new train station was constructed as well as a large boulevard to connect the north to the south of the city, in a fast way.

Porta Susa is a long glass tunnel supported by iron steel architraves that was very innovative for the local context and introduced a contemporary architectural element in the middle of a city that is baroque and neoclassic at the same time, without compromising the overall atmosphere by providing a good mix of old and past, instead.

Torino Posta Susa – photo by Matteo Gazzarata

You won’t find many shops inside Torino Porta Susa except some small cafeterias and news stands because the station was conceived for very rapid transits, thus nodoby spends so much time in it. The punctuality of the hig speed trains made such mission possible (not that is perfect as also fast trains are sometimes delayed, but it works pretty well).

Torino Porta Susa – Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

So what do you prefer, the old or the new train station? Do you prefer the classic architecture or are you mad about the experimentaion of the contemporaty Archi-Stars?

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