‘MIND THE GAPS!’ – ARCHITECTURE FOR TRANSPORT

Professor Brian Edwards, Edinburgh School of Art, Herriot-Watt University.

11 November 2003

Professor Edwards is also a practising architect designing buildings for all forms of public transport – rail, bus, air and sea – ‘stations’.

The speaker opened by saying he wanted to draw together sustainable development and transport architecture.

People now travel more frequently and further than they used to do. A substantial proportion do not own cars and it is desirable that those who do should use public transport for many journeys to reduce fuel usage and air pollution.

The design of the ‘station’(used as a general term for any form of public transport service area) affects the comfort and efficiency of travelling as well as the appearance of gateways to towns. Too often this gateway is designed with the transport requirements taking priority over the convenience of users and urban design.

Sustainability involves economic and social as well as environmental considerations. Increasing the prosperity of the area and the well-being and convenience of people is as important as maintaining a pleasant environment. It is important to appreciate that by 2020 fifty percent of the population will be over 50 years of age with the consequent limited mobility and income for many of them.

A station commonly consists of four areas: a gathering space, where people arrive and leave; a concourse, for purchasing tickets, waiting, shopping and meeting travellers; a linear space consisting of platforms or equivalent boarding areas; a connecting space, for movement between these areas, which is frequently a bridge or tunnel system, and may carry people not using the station over or through it as well as users within it.

A station has a number of owners: of the infra-structure (Network Rail, BAA), of the transport (train operators, airlines, ferry / cruise companies), of the facilities (shops, waiting areas, toilets, luggage storage), and, often ignored, the users.

The user should be central in the design of a station but is often the least considered ‘owner’. The design should:

 

Define the functional spaces

 

Allow for the different priorities of different users – catching a departure, buying a ticket in advance, meeting a friend, having a snack

 

Differentiate the importance of stakeholders – retailers, information suppliers, staff, users

 

Allow for future change of emphasis in the facilities and priorities

 

Celebrate travel – make it a pleasant experience by good architecture with protection from the weather (Manchester Piccadilly), detail, light, colour, cleanliness and ‘atmosphere’.

 

Connect arriving travellers with the town and departing travellers with the transport efficiently

 

Modern stations are becoming interchanges between modes – trains and buses; roads and planes – where the user suffers stress unless clear routes and easily recognised directions are evident, and efficient information systems available.

 

This is the area where there are at present several gaps to be avoided. The first is a large gap between the UK and the continent. As long ago as 1900 Dresden had an interchange on different levels between, rail and road transport in a pleasant park-like setting. This historical gap is large; we need to catch up and have a long way to go to do so. Many continental towns now have convenient interchanges between buses, trams, light rail and inter-city rail, with good information systems and through tickets. Airports are served by direct train connections as well as buses, which only happens in England at Heathrow.

The third gap is between our aspirations and the reality. Interchange areas could become community hubs with offices, shops, public buildings, sports facilities located around the transport complex. The areas around rail stations that used to be goods yards, and the space over the station, could often be developed profitably to provide these facilities. This would reduce the attractiveness of using a car.

Discussion

From the 50s to the 90s the UK looked to the USA rather than Europe so that cars were more favoured than public transport. At the same time urban design was neglected, although this is now improving as shown by the Jubilee line stations and Manchester Piccadilly – but not London Underground, the stations of which were famous for their design in the 30s. Europe has the political and legal structure and way of thinking that supports public transport, and their mayors are more influential.

In spite of having ticket machines we still have to have collectors as some tickets cannot be read by the machines; this is inefficient.

Good architecture makes people more productive; this is being measured in schools, but is a common experience.

The ‘community hub’ interchange has a long history – Swindon and Crewe developed as towns around railway works or stations. Heathrow is the modern equivalent; it is a ‘town’ larger than Oxford with the best bus and coach interchange in the UK, but it only has one direct rail connection – to London, of course.

The current dictum that customers should have ‘choice’ above all is a mistake for transport as it implies the use of cars in preference to public transport. The design of stations should favour the latter.

Depending on the location, seats should be designed to allow people to sleep on them, e.g. in airports but not in railway termini.

Donald Lovell