Showing posts with label Longarone. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Longarone. Show all posts

31 December 2016

Giovanni Michelucci - architect

Designer made mark with railway station and motorway church

Giovanni Michelucci
Giovanni Michelucci 
The architect Giovanni Michelucci, whose major legacies include the Santa Maria Novella railway station in Florence, died on this day in 1990 in his studio just outside the Tuscan city at Fiesole.

Considered by many to be the 'father' of modern Italian architecture, he was only two days away from his 100th birthday.  He was still working and is said to have been inspecting progress on his latest project when he slipped and fell, later suffering a cardiac arrest.

Michelucci, who was born in Pistoia on January 2, 1891, is also remembered for the brilliantly unconventional church of San Giovanni Battista, with its tent-like curved roof, which forms part of a rest area on the Autostrada del Sole as it passes Florence.

The Santa Maria Novella station project for which he first won acclaim came after a collective of young architects known as the Tuscan Group, co-ordinated by Michelucci, beat more than 100 other entries in a national competition in the early 1930s to built a new station behind the church of the same name.

The linear design was loathed by conservatives but loved by modernists, although it could not be said to conform to the style identifiable as Fascist architecture in Italy at the time, which had echoes of classical Roman design, albeit without ornate decoration.

It met with the approval of Fascist leader Mussolini, nonetheless, who approved the design, and it came to be regarded subsequently as a masterpiece of rationalist architecture. The stone of its exterior blended with the historic colours of Florence, yet a spacious entrance hall and gallery with a thermolux and steel roof made it functional and modern.

Santa Maria Novella railway station in Florence
Santa Maria Novella railway station in Florence
The station was built between 1932 and 1935, almost 30 years before Michelucci's second landmark work, which he undertook at the age of 73 after the highways authority commissioned him to design a church that would both honour the memory of those who died in the construction of the motorway and provide a 'parish for tourists', where travellers could break their journeys to worship.

The church, in concrete and stone, is built around a traditional 'cross' floor plan with tent-like vertical elements, rising to a height of 27.5 metres (90 feet), giving it a modern feel. The roof is of copper, oxidised to a blue-green colour on the outside and burnished blond on the inside, with marble, glass and bronze used for other interior features.

Michelucci came from a family which owned a craft iron workshop, which gave him his introduction to design. He graduated from the Higher Institute of Architecture at the Academy of Fine Arts of Florence before teaching at the Institute of Architecture of Florence, where he could later become Dean.

During his military service in the First World War, he built his first architectural work, a chapel for soldiers on the eastern front in Casale Ladra, near Caporetto in what is now Slovenia.

In the early 1920s, Michelucci taught in Rome, the city where he married the painter Eloisa Pacini. He returned to Florence in 1928.

Michelucci's church of San Giovanni Battista
Michelucci's 'motorway' church of San Giovanni Battista
Other important works in Tuscany include a 1936 town plan for Pistoia, the classicist-style Palazzo del Governo in Arezzo the same year and the Borsa Merci in Pistoia (1950).

In Florence, he designed an urban plan for the Sorgane neighbourhood of Florence in 1955) and the Cassa di Risparmio of Florence in 1957.  The Inn of the Red Crawfish at the Pinocchio Park in Collodi (1963) is his, as is the skyscraper in Piazza Matteotti in Livorno (1966).

His biggest disappointments were the rejection of his plans for reconstruction of the Ponte Vecchio area after the Second World War II and for restoring the buildings around Piazza Santa Croce after the 1966 flood.

However, Michelucci did become involved with the reconstruction work necessitated by the Vajont Dam disaster in the mountains above Venice in 1963, in particular the village of Longarone, where he designed a memorial church.

Always an architect who wanted his buildings to benefit the people who used them, in his later years he concentrated almost entirely on what might be deemed social projects, designing churches, schools, hospitals, and prisons. He also devoted time and energy to setting up the Michelucci Foundation to support research into urban planning and modern architecture and to promote his own values and ideals.

Travel tip:

Florence's railway station was opened on February 3, 1848, to serve the railway lines to Pistoia and Pisa. It was initially called Maria Antonia in honour of Princess Maria Antonia of the Two Sicilies but was renamed after the church of Santa Maria Novella after the unification of Italy.  Nowadays, the station is used by 59 million people every year and is one of the busiest in Italy, with high speed lines to Rome and Bologna.

The 11th century cathedral of Fiesole
The 11th century cathedral of Fiesole
Travel tip:

Fiesole, situated in an elevated position about 8km (5 miles) north-east of Florence, has since the 14th century been a popular place to live for wealthy Florentines and even to this day remains the richest municipality in Florence.  Formerly an important Etruscan settlement, it was also a Roman town of note, of which the remains of a theatre and baths are still visible.  Fiesole's cathedral, built in the 11th century, is supposedly built over the site of the martyrdom of St. Romulus.

More reading:

Ulisse Stacchini's architectural legacy to Milan

Pier Luigi Nervi - from football stadiums to churches

How Marcello Piacentini's designs symbolised Fascist ideals

Also on this day:

New Year's Eve - the Festa di San Silvestro

(Picture credits: Motorway church by Luca Aless)


9 October 2016

Vajont Dam Disaster

Catastrophic flood may have killed 2,500

The Vajont Dam, pictured before the disaster of 1963, was considered a triumph of  engineering.
The Vajont Dam, pictured before the disaster of 1963, was
considered a triumph of  engineering.
Prone to earthquakes because of its unfortunate geology, Italy has suffered many natural disasters over the centuries, yet the horrific catastrophe that took place on this day 53 years ago in an Alpine valley about 100km north of Venice, killing perhaps as many as 2,500 people, was to a significant extent man-made.

The Vajont Dam Disaster of October 9, 1963 happened when a section of a mountain straddling the border of the Veneto and Fruili-Venezia Giulia regions in the Fruilian Dolomites collapsed in a massive landslide, dumping 260 million cubic metres of forest, earth and rock into a deep, narrow reservoir created to generate hydroelectric power for Italy's industrial northern cities.

The chunk of Monte Toc that came away after days of heavy rain was the size of a small town yet within moments it was moving towards the water at 100km per hour (62mph) and hit the surface of the reservoir in less than a minute.

The effect was almost unimaginable.  Within seconds, 50 million cubic metres of water was displaced, creating a tsunami that rose to 250m high.  The dam held, but the colossal volume of water had nowhere to go but over the top and into the Piave valley below.

Where the village of Longarone had stood, all that  remained was mud and debris.
Where the village of Longarone had stood, all that
 remained was mud and debris.
The landslide was timed at 10.39pm.  In the valley, dotted with villages, many residents were already in bed, others locking up, some making their way home.  They had no chance of escape.  The only warning was a rumbling in the distance, accompanied by a sudden, strengthening wind, that rapidly turned into a deafening roar.

The force behind the surge of water was such that its initial impact with the valley floor after its 250m descent through the narrow Vajont gorge left a crater 60m (200ft) deep and 80m across.

As the water rushed onwards into the Piave valley, it pushed along a pocket of air generating more energy than was created by the atomic bomb that flattened Hiroshima. It was so powerful that most of the victims were found naked, their clothes ripped off them by the blast.

Within a matter of minutes, the villages of Longarone, Pirago, Rivalta, Villanova and Faè had been wiped from the map and 80 per cent of their inhabitants were dead, accounting for around 2,000 of the fatalities.

Others died in villages further downstream, as well as on the opposite side of the reservoir to the landslide, where another huge wave swept up the hillside.

It is estimated that more than half those killed were never found, their bodies buried too deep to be recovered under the vast mud plain that the water left behind.  Others were carried for miles along the Piave River, some possibly into the Adriatic.

The collapse of the mountain filled in almost  half of the reservoir in minutes
The collapse of the mountain filled in almost
half of the reservoir in minutes
A cemetery exists at Fortogna, which commemor- ates all those known to have died, although the headstones - identical blocks of marble in uniform rows - do not necessarily correspond with the remains buried immediately underneath. In many cases there are no remains at all.  To the dismay of relatives, flowers and personal memorials are not permitted to be left.

In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, the Italian government and the two authorities involved with the construction of the dam - the Adriatic Energy Corporation (Societa Adriatica di Elettrica) and, at a later stage, the National Entity for Electricity (Ente nazionale per l'energia elettrica) - attributed the catastrophe to natural causes. Journalists who suggested otherwise were accused of "undermining public order".

Later, however, it emerged that many warnings about the instability of the site chosen had been ignored and the project had been allowed to continue despite a number of landslides over a period of four years before the disaster.

A number of engineers eventually went on trial and some were convicted of negligence but the sentences handed out were seen by many as too lenient.  The government was urged to sue the Adriatic Energy Corporation for compensation but in the end decided against it.

Among events held to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the disaster in 2013, a stage of the Giro d'Italia cycle race finished in the municipality of Erto e Casso on the northern side of the reservoir, with the next stage starting in Longarone.

Longarone was completely rebuilt as a modern village
Longarone was completely rebuilt as a modern village
Travel tip:

Nowadays, the largely undamaged Vajont Dam - itself a triumph of engineering, at 262m (860ft) the tallest in the world at the time of construction - is open to the public and a small memorial chapel has been built.  The rebuilt village of Longarone contains a memorial church designed by one of Italy's most influential 20th century architects, Giovanni Michelucci.

Travel tip:

The most important city in the upper Piave valley, situated about 30km south of Longarone, is Belluno, a former Alpine Town of the Year, where there has been a settlement of some kind since around 220BC.  Subsequently it passed into the hands of the Romans.  The sarcophagus of Caius Flavius Hosilius and his wife Domitia can be found in the church of Santo Stefano, which was built on the site of a Roman cemetery.