“Once ‘man’ is set as the base-centre, everything – we can see it here – falls in the range of his action. He is the unfailing main character of a scene of which he is the centre, the absolute master, while the other characters are only architectural elements. The portico and the pergola, the fountain and the temple, the pavement and the garden, so sweetly do they agree to recognize him as the master, so devoutly are they nurtured with gratitude towards him that, almost like messengers announcing his greatness, overcoming, in this function, the limits of their own size, they acquire a monumental look: the magnificence of a work is a matter of psychology and of relations” (“Lesson of Pompei”, Arte Mediterranea n.1 1934)
These words by Michelucci are an excerpt from an article published in issue n.1 of Arte Mediterranea in 1934, the same year the master was committed to introduce major amendments to the original design of the Palazzina Reale included in the projects that had been awarded the contract for Santa Maria Novella railway station in 1932.
In the original design of the new station in Florence, the building that was to be reserved for the royal family while travelling through Florence was to be located in the so-called “long sleeve”, that is, the wing facing Via Valfonda, and was essentially distinguished by a protruding diaphragm detached from the main building that served as bearing element of the protective roof for coaches.
The state protocol imposed to have the Palazzina jut out from the original layout with an addition to the travellers’ building, and to use a different finishing material, which resulted in an abrupt transition from the dark tones of pietraforte stone to the pure white of Fior di Pesco Carnico marble slabs on the walls and Bianco di Carrara marble frames for windows and doors. As one can infer from Michelucci’s words about Pompei published in the article in Arte Mediterranea, the layout of the Palazzina composed of a pergola, portico and fountain define a procession path, where man is at the centre of action and whose greatness is signified by a monumental interface at urban scale.
The materials are valuable and their use is not owed to decorativism; rather, they help de- fine the succession of spaces through different colours and textures on a large background. The solution for the interior layout is emblematic, with the vestibules and the royal hall ideally matched with an alternation of wood and marble on their respective vertical and horizontal surfaces, that is wall panelling and floors, consistently with the changing conditions of natural light filtering into the halls.
Following the first restoration works executed by Professor Dezzi Bardeschi in 1990, which essentially consisted in cleaning and consolidating the exterior marble finishing, some structural problems emerged on one side of the portico in the latest years. As a consequence, the Palazzina was long propped with falsework, which contributed to a general impression of neglect. A functional redevelopment was carried out by the Roll of Architects of Florence prior to accommodating their offices on the first floor of the Palazzina in 2014. With the recent intended use of the building as commercial area, some arguable interventions were executed by the owner of the monument to improve the safety conditions of some portions.
Today, after 80 years of scarce usage and long neglect, the monument is in the inverse situation, that is one of a positive process of reuse but also of a stressful adjustment, which, if not properly managed, is likely to give way to dangerous wrongdoings.
[by Roberto Masini, President of Ordine Architetti of Florence]