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5. Conclusion


After the completion of the Chiesa dell'Autostrada, Giovanni Michelucci worked on a series of projects (in particular churches), developing variations on the fluid forms that he had first initiated with the Chiesa dell'Autostrada.121 His portfolio of work after that date, up until his death in 1990 was significant enough in its own right to constitute a respectable lifetime's achievement, and so it is hardly surprising that earlier projects are so often "glossed over".

Michelucci believed his projects should be ""transformed and modified so that they are temporary."122 Although it is difficult to imagine how Chiesa dell'Autostrada could be transformed, Michelucci's desire was fulfilled in 1965 when the Cassa di Risparmio in Pistoia (1957-65) was completed (pictured below). The new bank replaced Michelucci's own "Borsa Merci" of 1948. The Cassa di Risparmio, designed about the same time as the Chiesa dell'Autostrada, exhibited a similar new found confidence in its form and materials that the church had displayed and without any of the modesty of its predecessor.

However, despite Michelucci's later successes, in my opinion it is still the Chiesa dell'Autostrada, with its almost total lack of urban context which has proven to be Michelucci's most enduring project, aspiring as it does, to create its own microcosmic urban environment.

Michelucci's lessons are complex, and at times difficult to understand. Michelucci so often, very nearly contradicts himself in his writings and work so that his architecture has suffered from superficial interpretation and criticism and he has been largely misunderstood by a generation of post war architects.123

In explaining Michelucci's lack of notoriety, Ludovico Quaroni described him as "for those who know how to interpret and understand his work, the most up to date architect active in Italy, and for this reason he is a remote, foreign almost unknown and hostile figure".124

The underlying and most important aspect of Michelucci's character was his honest and personal approach to architecture. He said towards the end of the 1960s that "I do not like my buildings (even though I am aware of others opinions towards them) because I do not like myself".125 This somewhat surprising comment hints at how he was tormented by doubts, changes of mind and opinion, hesitations and errors. And in continually rejecting all consistent and rational theorisation he chose to favour renewed interpretations, each time different.

Michelucci objected strongly to the cult of personality that had characterised many chapters in the history of modern architecture and was a tireless promoter of cultural initiatives; first with La Nuova Citta and later with the establishment of a Foundation, the Fondazione Michelucci in 1982. And so his legacy was not exactly a "movement" or a "school" but these very initiatives that he had established. With them he turned to issues which few people concern themselves with now; spaces for social rejects, outcasts and the oppressed tackling themes such as prisons, psychiatric hospitals, gypsy camps, elderly housing and suburban life.

Michelucci became lifelong friends with many of his pupils (succesful pupils of his include Leonardo Savioli, Leonardo Ricci and Edoardo Detti), but even with these individuals he rarely spoke about architecture. Instead he said "we talk of big and little events, that is to say the roots from which architecture grows".126 True words it would seem of an "Architect for Mankind".

Sadly, today at the Chiesa dell'Autostrada a visitor has to make a special request in order to view parts of the building such as the Baptistry, balcony and connecting passageways which generally remain locked. All this despite Michelucci's avowed intentions for an open building, providing spaces for all occasions and all people to meet or find themselves.

There are however occasional glimmers of hope that Michelucci's best intentions can still be fulfilled. For instance on my last day at the Chiesa dell'Autostrada, I overheard two complete strangers in the cloister:

One said to the other, "interesting building."

"Yes it is", they replied.

There was a pause, and then the first asked "Are you from Florence by any chance?"