The Perfect Wave: New High Speed Train Station in Italy
Text: George Frazzica
The roof construction designed by Santiago Calatrava is composed of 19 modules, each of which is made up of a stepped series of 25 steel elements positioned about 1 meter apart. Embedded in a completely flat landscape, the modules arranged in the shape of a three-dimensional sinusoidal curve create a compelling dynamic structure: a perfect wave.
Architect: Santiago Calatrava Valls
Location: 62020 Reggio nell’Emilia (RE), Italy
Stazione Reggio Emilia AV Mediopadana – the only stop on the high speed train service between Milan and Bologna – was officially opened for passengers on 9 June 2013. Planning and development of the project took into account that the railway station will serve a much larger area than just the city of Reggio Emilia, with the number of potential users estimated at 2 million.
The infrastructure has been developed to link the "Area Vasta" – the vast area extending from Modena to Parma, and bordering the provinces Cremona, Mantua and Verona in the north. The construction is part of an urban renewal project incorporating the northern part of Reggio Emilia, the capital of the homonymous province. In the course of this, Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava has already created five large buildings for Reggio Emilia: the recently inaugurated railway station, three bridges along a new expressway connecting Bagnolo to Reggio Emilia and the roof construction of a toll station on the A1 motorway. As the single stop between Milan and Bologna, the station permits quick and convenient access to Milan (about 40 minutes) and Bologna (about 20 minutes).
The new railway station is 4 km away from the city centre of Reggio Emilia (officially referred to as Reggio nell’Emilia) and a few hundred metres from the new toll station on the A1, known as the "Autostrada del Sole". Composed of white-painted steel elements and glass, the roof structure has a length of 483 m and a variable width and height. The width ranges between 35 m and 50 m, while the height is 20 m on average, with the roof rising between 7.5 m and 14.5 m above the platforms inside. The construction is composed of a series of 19 modules, each 25.4 m long, which are made up of a stepped arrangement of a series of 25 steel elements placed 1 m apart from each other.
The geometric variation of the portal shape, repeated at regular intervals, gives the structure an extraordinary "wave effect", which is evident in the ground plan and elevations and creates a three-dimensional volume in the form of a sinusoid curve. Following a specific geometric principle, the shape of the wave differs on either side: the station entrance façade has a more dynamic appearance, with the two waves overlapping symmetrically, while the side facing the motorway is altogether calmer with regular (parallel) waves.
Only the approximately 6-metre-wide boarding and exit platforms are covered with glass. This is achieved by means of rectangular, transparent laminated glass panels inserted between the steel portals using aluminium frames. The entire surface is supported by a reinforced concrete structure consisting of a longitudinal box girder, resting on two concrete beams at intervals of 25 m.
Along the elevated tracks, the floor plan of the train station has two levels: an upper platform level where the trains arrive and depart, and a lower level serving as an entrance to the station.
The floor below the platform level accommodates various station service areas: a passenger area with relevant commercial units, an access area to regional trains and an area with warehouses, storage depots and sanitary facilities. Four escalators lead to the platform level on either side, while two panoramic lifts are located the middle of the structure.
Impacts on the environment and landscape have been mitigated by the creation of green areas along the railway line and entrance area of the station. By setting the large parking area a little lower – slightly below the surrounding ground level – the elevated crowns of the trees screen the parking vehicles, resulting in an undisturbed façade geometry that can be perceived without disruption.
Other elements of the building complex
Within the scope of the same project, Santiago Calatrava has also designed three bridges and a toll station on the Autostrada del Sole for Reggio Emilia. The central bridge over the A1 and the high speed line is a single structure with a span of 221 m. It consists of two reinforced concrete abutments, a bridge body composed of a central steel box girder to which the two "ribs" carrying car traffic are welded, as well as a large bold arch with a height of 50 m and an octagonal cross-section following the direction of the road. The arch and steel box girder are connected with 50 tensioning cable pairs. Bikeways are made of laminated safety glass and the total weight of the fully welded steel structure is 4,000 t.
Twin bridges, each with a length of 179 m and a width of 15 m, rise up immediately to the south and north of the central bridge. Except for the abutments, these two bridges are constructed entirely of white-painted steel and impress with unusual hyperbolically shaped tensioning cables.
The new Reggio Emilia toll station is located approximately one kilometre to the west of the old toll station in direction Parma and serves as an access to the Autostrada del Sole. The structure consists of two curved supporting pillars, a roof of steel and glass, 56 steel ribs and 52 steel cables, forming the shape of a reverse arch. The 50-metre-high pillars have a spindle-shaped cross-section. Thanks to the deliberately striking design of the individual buildings, travellers approaching Reggio Emilia from the motorway are presented with an extraordinary composition made up of the toll station and southern bridge.
The idea of a "sail", mainly discernible in the shape of the bridges and toll station, was developed during the initial feasibility study of the train station project. The design idea was changed several times and after numerous adaptation and revision steps, a "wave" shape eventually evolved from it. Although maintaining a coherent formal language, this is clearly differentiated from the bridges, as well as offering a more demonstrative "celebration of speed", as advocated by the futurist Marinetti. Nevertheless, the building complex appears superbly concentrated in the horizontal expanse of the Po Plain: a homage to a kind of monumentality foreign to the local cultural identity – this "good" wave has nothing at all in common with the "bad" wave that devastated more or less the same area during the earthquakes one year ago.
Client: TAV S.p.A. (Treno Alta Velocità S.p.A.) – Municipality of Reggio Emilia
Project design: 2003–2007
Project realisation: 2009–2013
Building costs: Work by competitive bidding amounting to Euro 70 million
Contractor: Cimolai S.p.A.
Length: 483 m
Average height: 20 m
Steel weight: 14,000 t
Platform area: approx. 7,300 m²
Glass area: approx. 10,000 m²
Steel elements: 457
Pillars supporting arches: 38
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