The Thing About Train Stations
SJR 01 - 21 - 2010

The thing about train stations is they are often the first impression people get of a city, especially here in Europe since much of the travel is done via train. It's been rather interesting to see the different ways in which cities treat this gateway. Two very different approaches can be seen by comparing Milan's grandiose station with the small, simple station in Venice. The Milan train station was built during the height of the Fascist part. To illustrate their power and might, the station is built on a monumental scale. As one approaches it, he or she feels small and insignificant. The massive stone work reflects back a little to Ancient Rome, and the huge iron and glass barrel vaults over the train yard leaves a visitor in awe. As one gets off the train, you are immediately aware of how many trains there are and how large the station is, due to the vaulted space. Proceeding out to the square, the new arrival travels down a flight of steps and into a large, ornate entry space. Passing through oversized doors, one finds themself in a covered colonnade, rising close to 2 stories and supported by massive stone columns. From this gateway one goes right into the square at the center of the new part of Milan. This station was obviously meant to impress the new arrivals to the city and show the power of the new machine age, via the use of the iron vaults. The station at Venice gives a far different impression than the one in Milan. Here the trains are not in a covered area. Only the platforms have a low canopy. Given this set up, when a passenger disembarks, they cannot see very far since the canopy and the train create a visual barrier giving the sense of a small station. The new arrival can tell that they are outside as they walk toward the exit. Passing through doors, the person enters inside where the ticket kiosks and shops are. After traveling though this small space, the new arrival exits the doors and is in a low ceilinged colonnade. From here they have their first view of the canal and the town. All that is left to do is pass down a short flight of steps and into the streets of Venice. There is nothing monumental or grandiose about this building. It is a small, quite piece that is supposed to serve as a transition, nothing more, and thus leave the arrival in awe of the small town feel when they exit onto the street and canal. There are similarities in the way the stations are laid out, like with the double-sided platforms, and how they serve as gateways to their respective cities, they were built to be experienced in very different ways. Milan's station is meant to overpower the visitor right away with its monumentality and splendor. It is even set apart in the square. The station in Venice is tucked away on the edge of town and nestled in between older buildings. It is not meant to stand out or overpower. Rather it is meant to serve the function of passing visitors through and focusing their attention on the town and its canals. Below are exterior sketches of both the Milan, on the left and Venice train stations, on the right. To the right are cross-sections of both stations. (not to scale)

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