Florence is a hard act to follow if you’re a contemporary architect. It’s not so much a case of listed buildings – just about the whole of the historic city is worthy of conservation. But the 21st century has seen something of a new Renaissance in Italian architecture, in Florence just as in Milan and Rome, with many starchitect buildings that have added new poles of attraction. In Florence, Norman Foster’s design for the TAV Belfiore station was delivered in 2003, but discussions on the utility of the new station have delayed the start of building work and so this building with an immense glass roof, a modern version of the classic 19th century stations, remains on paper. But there are many examples of how modern design can function to perfection in Florence: here is a small selection.
Le Murate is one of Florence’s great architectural success stories of the last few decades, a refurbishment supervised by Renzo Piano. Le Murate has a long history, dating back to the 15th century and originally a convent up until Florence fell under Napoleon's army in 1808. The convent was forcibly closed, and the building became a prison, retaining this function right up until 1985. Conversion began in 1999. The building reopened in 2011 and now comprises residential and commercial spaces. Caffé Letterario in particular is a haven for Florence’s free spirits and liberal thinkers. Local artists, scholars and socialites all flock to the area to work, browse the collections, flick through the books and listen to live music. There is a touch of irony in how a location whose name translates as ‘The Walls’ and that was once a prison is now used for culture that breaks down barriers.
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A trip to a jewellery shop is always a pleasurable experience, but newly-opened Officina Nora is neither a company or a brand. The space is a collective, set up by Florence native Margherita de Martino Norante as a location where designers can work together, swapping ideas and skills. The creations themselves are delicate and light, but the store area is pure warehouse-style, with heavy metals and tools atop the iron benches. A refreshing example of how traditional Florentine artisanal skills and a modern approach can blend successfully.
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Numeroventi Design Residency
Representing a welcome break from Florence’s terracotta streets and Renaissance rooms, Numeroventi is a renowned design space on Palazzo Galli Tassi, with bright, Nordic-style open rooms and minimalist furniture. Comprising three apartments, it hosts artists and designers in residence, but is open to the public.
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A recent addition to Santo Spirito’s Via Maggio, this trendsetters-favourite boutique has a Parisian-Northern-European vibe, selling high-end fashion for both men and women from across Italy. It also presents collections by international designers such as Kenzo and Comme des Garçons. The store’s industrial-looking interiors are a marked break from the opulent, traditional boutiques in Florence.
Florence Opera House
The Opera di Firenze is a prime example of how modern architecture can revolutionise the cityscape in a way that people love. It is one of the most modern opera houses in the world, and its opening in 2011 coincided with the 150th anniversary of the of the unification of Italy. With design by Rome-based Studio ABDR, the building is an intriguing composition of spaces and surfaces that connect the city to the Cascine park.
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For more ideas on how to Do, Dine and Spend in Florence and beyond, visit our Destinations pages.