The head of architecture at Arup, Nille Juul-Sorensen believes transport station design in Australia needs to be completely reviewed and restored to its former glory.
Juul-Sorensen, who previously headed the Danish Design Centre, is an award-winning architect and design director for Arup, whose designs for the Copenhagen Metro and the Citytunnel in Malmo changed the perception of infrastructure architecture – especially station design – amongst Scandinavians.
He and Melbourne-based colleague, Kristian Winther, believe creating interchanges and making them destinations in their own right is the secret to restoring the ‘esprit’ of yesteryears stations, which in turn has a transformative effect on communities, restoring pride, and revitalising and reigniting whole city areas.
Juul-Sorensen recalled that train stations used to be designed around people and the passenger experience. They were an energiser for small cities, the heart of civic life, and made for great meeting places and market spaces. Train stations were also designed and built with a quality of aesthetic that people were proud of and wanted to protect.
However, the 1960s and 70s saw people turning their back on stations in favour of the car. When the volume of cars became too great for the streets, people returned to the commuter train, but this time design was all about getting the cheapest materials to minimise replacement costs when passengers damaged them. Narrow corridors, low ceilings, crappy materials, and crowds made trains and stations look and feel awful.
The change for the better was first noted when St Pancras in London reopened in 2006. It was a new way of treating a station, turning an unloved, historic rail terminus into a dynamic transport interchange and a destination in its own right. Today, it’s an international hub for the high speed Eurostar, features a commuter station, an underground station and a food marketplace, has a Michelin restaurant, is an art gallery, has a book club, and has even played host to some of the world’s biggest music stars.
Interestingly, over one third of the people at St Pancras each day don’t take a train. They are there to do other things.
Image: Kristian Winther Arup
The key change was the evolution of the standalone station from having a single purpose to having other functions, which were valuable for the community.
Kristian Winther, who has more than 15 years of experience with the design of stations and urban spaces, explains that the station became an interchange, connecting many public transport modes and ensuring the smooth easy movement of people. The interchange became a destination, integrating into the design of the broader urban fabric, rather than being just a standalone station.
More cities across the world are now reconsidering the purely functional nature of station design, instead choosing to create spaces or ‘interchange destinations’ that combine other experiences such as community gardens on unused roofs, farmers markets, libraries, pools, gyms, doctors and civic services for the community. This essentially involves ‘hacking’ the traditional idea of the station by taking one function and doing something completely different with it.
‘Hacking’ will be a top trend in interchange design in the future but there will also be greater emphasis on quality, technology and ground-breaking architectural designs that help improve passenger flows.
Nille believes the opportunities are endless when it comes to technology in station design and can range from ticketing at the train door, or a reserved train seat to a chair that moulds to the passenger’s body, or having one’s favourite music playing during the commute. Technology can help make these things possible and it has the potential to change everything and bring with it a seamless travel experience.
The other vital piece of the interchange destination jigsaw is to create a seamless experience for passengers as well as for those non-passengers using these spaces.
Nille explains that it’s about enabling people to spend time because they want to. Ease of use is also important; the design, therefore, should be functional, like way-finding, and people shouldn’t need to hunt for that information to find where they need to go.
Speaking on the challenges to designing transport interchanges, Nille says the biggest barrier is the mind-set of governments, train companies and major operators who are restricted by the layers and layers of regulations and standards that have been built up over a few hundred years of the rail industry. Rejecting a new idea is quite common but it’s time to change this mind-set and explore the possibilities.
It’s important to adopt smarter design, offer legislative incentives and focus on quality to create more vibrant, useful and integrated station spaces that have users and the community at their core and connect them with the local neighbourhood.
Kristian adds other barriers including the current siloed approach to designing these projects, a lack of understanding about the benefits, and cost.
According to Nille, creating a destination style interchange is perceived to cost more than a standalone thoroughfare, but the long-term gains are far greater and should be understood better.
Additionally, different organisations or bodies own and control the various elements; rather than working in siloes, these stakeholders need to start working on projects together. The Melbourne quarter is a good example where this has been achieved; a station has been upgraded to a destination and a massive urban development has been initiated.
Transforming interchanges into destinations is about designing a journey. New or existing, large and small, urban or regional, they can be regenerative projects, which provide a valued amenity, an identity for the community, and a catalyst for economic development.
Image: Station Running © Kristian Winther Arup