Rail travel is typically more about the journey (and destination), and less about the station you are departing from – unless you are standing in Belgium’s Gare de Liege-Guillemins, a 312 million euro station designed by renowned architect Santiago Calatrava.

Connecting Liege to major European cities such as Paris, London and Brussels, Gare de Liege-Guillemins is defined by a glass and steel vault that allows for a seamless, transparent connection with the building’s exteriors, whilst creating an urban dialogue with the city.

With buildings like this, it is no wonder that sometimes the adventure begins even before the train leaves the platforms, says Hamburg-based architectural data company Emporis, who has compiled a list of 11 of the world’s most spectacular train stations:

“Increasing numbers of cities are adorning themselves with eye-catching station buildings that, with their unconventional roof structures, bright colours and extravagant shapes, become unique architectural landmarks of those cities.”

Gare de Liège-Guillemins. Image: Michiel van Dijk

Taking cues from Emporis’ list, which includes London’s King’s Cross Railway station by Lewis and William Cubitt (John McAslan + Partners), and New York’s Grand Central Terminal by Warren & Wetmore, we examine six railway stations in Australia – five built and one unbuilt – that could be called an ‘architectural landmark’.

Southern Cross Railway Station, Melbourne

Grimshaw Architects, Daryl Jackson

Originally built in 1859, the Southern Cross Railway station (former Spencer Street Railway) was renovated to welcome the emblematic dune-like roof that covers an entire city block. According to Grimshaw, the roof’s geometry was driven by an ambition for a low energy station, its form playing a crucial role in the station’s environmental envelope. Integrated louvres at the peak of each roof vault also promote natural ventilation of diesel fumes and airborne particulars.

The high roofs, complemented by an expansive glazed façade that engages the streetscape, allow the vistas within and from the station to work well. Seeking a performative solution rather than an architectural proposition has allowed the project’s essence to remain unchanged through the political, contractual and financial process.

Images: John Gollings, Shannon McGrath. Source: Grimshaw

Mandurah Station, Southern Suburbs Railway, Perth

JCY Architects and Urban Designers

The Mandurah bus-rail interchange station is located near the heart of the city, and serves as the terminus for Perth’s Southern Rail Line. Constructed in pre-cast concrete, it consists of extensive areas comprising coloured glazing with a digitised dot-speed matrix that expresses speed – the acceleration and deceleration taking place along the track.

The platform roof folds over the station building, providing central cover, while a lower roof element to the south shelters patrons discretely. Both elements exhibit cranked steel frames connected with roof sheeting, and a combination of glazing and mesh.

Colour, an important element of the project, has been panelised into seemingly random patterns on the blocks of concrete. These blocks are painted in a pixelated palette that represents the colours of the adjacent estuary that Mandurah is renowned for.

Images: PTA, Architecture.com

Olympic Park Station, Sydney


As the gateway to Sydney’s Olympic site, the brief for the station asked for a world-class venue that could comfortably accommodate up to 50,000 patrons safely, efficiently and comfortably during the Games and peak travel times. The architectural expression of the building also needed to be compatible with its surrounds, and provide a seamless integration with the public domain.

Although designed in the tradition of 19th century glass and iron railway stations, the building embodies a distinctive Australian character and embraces openness, directness and clarity.

The monolithic base is carved into the ground to embed the platforms and retaining walls. Floating above and generating a dramatic visual presence is alightweight folded steel roof, a steel vaulted concertina structure that is free of services.

“The design deliberately eschews ornament. Its poetry, visual interest and richness come from the expression of a carefully ordered structure and the crafted detailing of materials and junctions,” Hassell writes.

Images: Patrick Bingham-Hall, Max Creasy. Source: Hassell

South Morang Rail Extension, Melbourne

Cox Architecture

Designed to be a dramatic place-maker and symbolising the convergence of ideas about threshold to travel, this extension included the construction of three new rail stations, an urban plaza and associated pedestrian, bus and vehicular access.

According to the architects, the station’s canopy is its most significant aspect, a sculptural form of civic scale that “folds and unfolds in response to each site context.” This unifying element integrates all the buildings and platforms, and choreographs the movement of occupants from the plaza to the rail corridor.

“The approach to the projects’ folded façade and inherent structural gymnastics is to create a column free environment resulting in a transparent, secure, and an identifiable language to the trilogy of stations,” Cox said.

Due to the harsh rail environment, a technologically advanced protective coating system was used on the folded steel panel, chosen because of its robustness and maintainability from vandalism and graffiti. It is juxtaposed by stained timber under the canopy, which injects warmth into the public building.

Images: Premier's Design Awards

Maryborough Railway Station, VIC

RBA Architects + Conservation Consultants

The original station was completed in 1895, and described by Mark Twain as ‘a railway station with a town attached’. However, by 2001 the building was facing a whole host of problems associated with long term maintenance neglect and inappropriate repair works. These problems threatened the cultural significance of the place, the resumption of passenger services which had halted, and patronage of retail tenants.

Stepping in to address these issues, RBA Architects undertook extensive research and detailed forensic surveys to resolve fabric deterioration and develop remediation techniques. Effort was made to minimise the introduction of new building fabric, and to faithfully reconstruct original details by implementing a range of traditional crafts and stage.

Ten years and three stages later, the building has been restored to its former 19th century Goldfields opulence.

Images: Peter Bennetts

Flinders Street Station Redevelopment Design, Melbourne

HASSELL and Herzog & de Meuron

Although not yet built (and possibly to never be constructed), this design proposal includes a new major public art gallery, public plaza, amphitheatre, marketplace, and a permanent home for arts and cultural festival organisation.

The main highlight of the design is a series of weather-proof vaulter roofs that will flood the train platforms with natural light and ventilation. Each roof vault will be related to individual platforms, so that passengers can recognise their vault for their train, but assembled together, they form a coherent structure.

Are our choices contentious? Let us know if the stations are worthy of the ‘landmark’ label, or if we’ve missed any amazing railway structures.

Lead image: DaveFlker