Architecture goes hand in hand with the rapid growth and evolution of transportation. Transit architecture is an ever-growing field as good connectivity has become one of the most important features for a city. But what exactly is transit architecture? Simply put, transit architecture is how the movement of people is enabled between the transit vehicle and the street.
But transit architecture is much more than just a connecting element – good transit design is the key to achieving efficient connectivity and movement of people. Therefore, the primary aim of transit design is to integrate multiple modes of public transport while putting the needs of the passenger first. Transit design requires the careful design of user-oriented spaces with safe environments and efficient travel without compromising on visual aesthetics.
History of Transit Architecture
There has always been trading and transport in every society throughout history. Almost five millennia ago, land and river routes were the modes of transport majorly used by the people of Mesopotamia. The Silk Route was the biggest trade route that connected the East and West and was the main reason behind the economic, cultural, and religious interactions between these regions from the 2nd century BCE to the 18th century.
The Persian, Chinese and English empires flourished due to trade, and the backbone for trade was the various land and sea routes. In the early 1800s, we saw the emergence of modern maritime and rail systems in England. Aeroplanes and automobiles were created in the early 1900s as working designs and were slowly being integrated with day-to-day practices.
Benefits of TOD (www.tod.org/)
And with the increase in modes of transportation, comes an increase in transit design. Cars require bridges, ships require ports and docks, and aeroplanes require airports. The concept of transit-oriented development (TOD) was introduced in the early 1990s by Peter Calthorpe. TOD refers to the integrated design of urban places to bring people, buildings, and public spaces together, with easy accessibility between them and the rest of the city.
Transit-oriented development was a response to the issues caused by the growing vehicular movement- rising energy prices, high road congestion, and climate change caused by pollution. According to Peter Calthorpe, transit-oriented development had the potential to provide a city’s residents with a higher quality of living—minimum transportation expenses while also reducing the environmental effects caused due to traffic congestion.
Transit Architecture Through The Ages
Brooklyn Bridge by John Roebling (1883)
One of the earliest designs in transit architecture is the Brooklyn Bridge. For much of the 19th century, New York City and Brooklyn were separated by the excessively turbulent East River. Before 1883, the only way to commute between these two large cities was through inefficient, unsafe, and extremely overcrowded ferries.
Over the years, many structures were proposed—wooden bridges, wire bridges, chain bridges, and even a tunnel. But none of them met the challenges posed by the East River. Keeping the waterways unobstructed, John Roebling designed the world’s longest suspension bridge (until 1903) to connect the two cities.
Roebling’s usage of steel wire cables, which no structure in the world had used before, proved to be a turning point in structural design, paving the way for its extensive use in the fields of architecture and civil engineering.
Pennsylvania Station by McKim, Mead & White (1910)
In 1902, the president of the Pennsylvania Railroad chose the famous firm McKim, Mead, and White to design their Manhattan terminal. The magnificent steel and stone building that covered almost four city blocks was completed in 1910. As the horizontal area available was limited, McKim designed an innovative vertical layout in which the trains were stacked to prevent congestion. To support the main concourse overhead, hundreds of steel columns were extended from the tracks that were 45 feet below ground level. The ceiling comprised three barrel vaults with almost no ornamentation.
The exterior facade was done with pink Milford granite and had very little embellishment. The interiors were clad in travertine marble, with all the exposed steel structures painted black. In 1963, because of the increasing economic strains, the station was demolished. In 1968, the Madison Square Garden was constructed over the ruins of this underground station.
Bac de Roda Bridge by Santiago Calatrava (1987)
The Bac de Roda Bridge is another great example of transit architecture. Located in the northern section of Barcelona, it binds two lesser-known districts of the city together. The city council wanted something more than just a simple structure connecting the two localities, something transcendent to reflect their new revitalization initiative. So, Santiago Calatrava designed a unique structure, giving equal importance to structural stability and aesthetics – he designed an experience.
A pair of parabolic arches support the roads of the bridge. An additional pair of canted arches, meeting at their apexes, form a pedestrian walkway bounded by the cable stays, which created a different experience for those crossing over by foot compared to the people travelling by car. The majority of the bridge deck is made of steel that was painted matte white, while the below deck support was made of white concrete. This material palette was enhanced by integrating shadow play.
This design was the first-ever bridge that Santiago Calatrava created, and it had a great deal of influence on bridge designs that followed.
Arnhem Central Station by UNStudio (2015)
The Arnhem Centraal Station, where six modes of transport converge, is an integral part of the journey of almost 55,000 travellers on an average day. Completed in 2015, the redesigned station resulted from a 20-year project planned by UNStudio. The redesigned transfer terminal features a dramatic twisting roof, which enables the column-free hall below. The original roof was planned using concrete, but the ultimate design was constructed with an imposing steel structure.
The design aimed to blur the distinction between the outside and the inside of the terminal by providing a continuous urban landscape that led into the interiors of the hall, where the walls, ceiling, and floors seamlessly blended together. The architects of UNStudio used the natural differences in the height of the different spaces to guide visitors intuitively.
The result of the combined effort of UNStudio and Arup is a great example of good transit architecture design—a spectacularly large and naturally lit terminal with a free-form roof structure.
Astana Rail Station, Kazakhstan by Tabanlıoğlu Architects (2017)
Astana or Nur-Sultan is located in the geographical centre of Kazakhstan and has a wide transport and communications network. The 45,000 sq ft mixed-use terminal building, which is almost 11 times larger than the existing one, sees a footfall of over 35,000 passengers per day. Tabanlıoğlu Architects designed the Astana Train Station to reflect the character of the new capital of Kazakhstan.
The design of the transport hub had multiple socioeconomic benefits—the architects provided a sustainable design with a reduced amount of raw materials used in construction while also providing an exceptional passenger experience.
The structure of the roof is considered the key element of this design. The roof comprises three continuous plates, which run end to end, forming wavy lines with intervals between them. The lightweight roof is made up of steel, optimized for strength and durability with good resistance to extreme weather. The openings above the main station building are covered by glass, and a cantilevered roof structure creates a long but protected, open-air waiting zone.
The distinct design of this transit architecture project stands out in Astana’s urban landscape and is just the beginning of the infrastructure upgrade of Kazakhstan’s capital city.
Transit Architecture Post COVID-19
It has been a year and a half since the coronavirus was first spotted, and we will see the effect of the rupture it created on global health and the economy for many years to come. The transmission of COVID-19 occurs the most in public places with a high density of people and close proximity. Subway systems, bus networks, and train stations are some of the high-risk areas for virus transmission because of the high density of people at any point in time.
COVID-19 is a test of the resiliency of our transit systems. Transit architecture that needs to be designed when all of this is over will need to accommodate social distancing and hygienic protocols when most of a city’s inhabitants return to their normal commute schedules.
Although we have just begun to realize the extent to which the pandemic has affected our lives, if we are to be ready for the next pandemic, the mass transportation network of every city needs to be redesigned. Some basic changes need to be made in the fundamental design to accommodate such global emergencies—temporary barriers to enable social distancing, proper separation of pedestrian traffic, removal of situations that warrant unnecessary physical contact (transactions and purchase can be made digitally), maintaining good air quality, etc.
As we move to the next phase of our lives post COVID-19, with the reopening of cities to the usual routines, some changes to the transit environment are inevitable. We don’t know what impending challenges await us in the future, and irrespective, as designers, we need to rethink the way we design transit architecture.
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Transit Architecture in the COVID-19 Era IBI Transit Architecture Studio. (2020). [online] . Available at: https://www.ibigroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Transit-Architecture-in-the-COVID-19-Era-2020-06-261.pdf.