The Restoration of Modern Architecture: How and Why

Conference, Workshop


The industrial revolution has dictated a change in attitude towards construction, with ar- chitecture having been burdened with construction complexity, a basic characteristic of modern architecture. This “complexity”, governed by the particularities of these buildings, is both in terms of materials and technical, architectural and structural solutions. Reading and understanding modern architecture, investigating it and being familiar with its materials and structures are all critical components of good design practice. Thus rendered essential is the professional’s competence in operating with a conscientious approach to the design of such buildings and their consequent actions; being aware of the latest technological innovations and materials currently available to ensure an attentive and appropriate contribution to the characteristics of the building.

The need to reflect on the conservation and restoration terms and to project its theoretical principles and operational practice in a contemporary context, recognising in ‘modern’ architecture a heritage to be protected just as with historic buildings, is today an essential path in intervening on work sites with awareness of more recent architecture.

‘Why and How to restore modern architecture’ constitutes the starting point from which a training pathway emerges. From September to November, a professional development course was held in collaboration between the Order, the Architects of Florence Foundation and the Associazione Assorestauro.

Being one of the greatest works of rationalism in architecture in the country, the Palazzina Reale of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, designed by Giovanni Michelucci, leading industry experts, architects, engineers, university professors were called upon, together with institutions and companies to take stock of the methods in approach and procedures for the activities of restoration and preservation of this modern architecture. The series of events commenced with a presentation conference, followed by training workshops reserved for industry professionals. Articulated through theoretical lessons and practical workshops, focus was both on Michelucci’s Palazzina and the thermal power station of the Santa Maria Novella Station, designed by Angiolo Mazzoni in around 1930.

Design method, diagnostic and instrumentation  practices have been assessed in all as- pects. Analysing the theoretical principles that lead to operational practices and the materials and structures were subjected to investigation. The aim was to understand  the foundation on which we must base an attentive and appropriate restoration project to the specific characteristics of a building.

Attention to the latest technologies was constant throughout the series of events. They were illustrated and tested throughout several workshops, on the works of the station complex, from the ground-penetrating radar and thermographic surveys to cleaning prac- tices, analysing finally the eventual intervention on masonry also in terms of a potential static reinforcement and seismic retrofitting.

Among the guest presenters at the conference who provided an overview of the many is- sues related to modern architecture restoration processes and structural engineering legislation were Giovanni Carbonara, one of the greatest scholars and theorists on architec- tural restoration, engaged in the presentation, “Why restore modern?” and Architect Mario Cucinella with a reflection on “An innovative approach towards the restoration of modern architecture”. Present on the same occasion was also Architect Paola Grifoni, regional secretary of MIBACT for Tuscany and Engineer Claudio Modena, professor of construction techniques at the University of Padua and of Construction Courses focused on seismic zones and structural restoration of historic buildings and monuments. Finally, Professor Ezio Godoli of the University of Florence introduced the history of the station complex and the architecture of the first two decades of the twentieth century in Florence.

The programme continued with the first module of the training cycle, dedicated to the restoration project and awareness of the aspects of degradation of the surfaces and ruin of the structures. Presenters included Professor Paolo Faccio of the IUAV University of Venice who presented the case of the restoration of the Brion Cemetery by Carlo Scarpa in San Vito di Altivole (Treviso), and Architect Fabrizio Falli of RFI who illustrated the restoration project of Mazzoni’s thermal power station.

The event continued with the commencement of the individual workshops, through the process of awareness or, rather, the path to undertake from historical analysis to knowledge of materials, construction details and a state of decay and ruin. The aim was to present the correct approach towards awareness of modern products, intended as a set of processes that define a procedure of diagnostics and monitoring, from the macroscopic scale through to the maximum microscopic detail, in order to determine all together positive results in the Restoration, Preservation and Enhancement activities. Finally, the days in November were dedicated to proper restoration works, necessary both for conservation and/or recuperation and reuse activities, through examples of several cases of major operations, broken down by methods of approach to the theme of modern architecture, focusing on the importance of better enhancement of modern architecture at a national and international level, always accompanied by operational insights concerning the Palazzina and the power station.

The initiative was realised thanks to the support of RFI - Gruppo Ferrovie dello Stato and the Order of Engineers in the Province of Florence, with the sponsorship of the City of Flor- ence, the National Council of Architects, the Ministry of Heritage and Cultural Activities, and the Regional Federation of the Order of Engineers in Tuscany.

[by Silvia Moretti, Board of Councellors Ordine Architetti of Florence]



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