There’s an old joke about the crusty Yankee who wins a day trip to New York. On his return, his friends ask him what he thought of the city. “Well,” he says, “there was so much going on down at the depot that we didn’t see much of the town.”

This is a slightly more obscure Nervi work–one that doesn’t show up in a lot of the classic books, but that has always seemed particularly rigorous to me in both planning and detail.

Savona is a small city on the Ligurian coast. It’s not really the image that comes to mind when you hear that, however–more like the transit point for beach goers who are getting off the train from Turin and Milan and who are getting on buses to somewhere lovelier. Still, that’s a lot of folks, and the train station Nervi designed there was undoubtedly a response to the city’s position as a major transfer point during summer weekends.

If nothing else, the train ride down from Turin emphasized the scale of the problem. The station itself is built into a hill, so you go down from the tracks into a long, curving corridor that emerges directly on the main level of the station. From the drawings, it looks like this was supposed to be the only level originally, but you now go down another set of stair to get got the street and the main bus roundabout.

So the section diagram works with the slope of the site, and the structural diagram basically extends perpendicular to the one circulation move across the site. Two rows of concrete piers that transform between rectangles set at 90 degrees to one another hold up a roof made of precast concrete vees. These run parallel to the circulation flow, but perpendicular to the main direction of the station. So as you turn to get your panini, or birra, or to use the bathrooms, the station changes its orientation. It’s a richly grained interior, one that’s defined entirely by the structural ceiling.

The piers themselves are good examples of Nervi changing a column section along its height to balance and ideal structural shape with planning logic. In this case, the columns are smashed flat in the plane of the glass curtain wall that runs along the front, maximizing floor space, and they twist as they rise so that they meet the ceiling beam above in the other direction. The column thus provides some lateral resistance to the structure in both directions, but with less useless material than if it had been a solid square section. And, the columns are pretty lovely:


Nail patterns are exactly the same as on the Corsia Franca, no surprise since they were built at about the same time. The curtain wall has some interesting moments where a system that wants to meet at right angles now has to slope to match the rising edge of the column–but that makes sense given the less onerous demands placed on it.

Overall the station is in good shape, though the architecture and a more recent renovation get in the way of Nervi’s big space. There’s a lot of solid around the outside, which is climatically right given Savona’s Mediterranean location. But that makes the building seem bulkier than it probably needs to be. And the proliferation of “cabins” inside has filled up what must have once been a more compelling space–this is the “Stansted problem” three decades before its time. You can’t make money off of big open space, but you can carve that space up into little sandwich-and-coffee pavilions and make a tidy profit.


Not that I didn’t do my part to support said cabins. After a long walk around the town, I can confirm that provincial Italian cities shut down for Sunday afternoons, so a panini at the station made do for lunch. A lot–or enough–going on down at the depot indeed.