The human race has constantly been blooming and coming up with new inventions and technologies. We had once started with fulfilling our basic needs for life and utilizing the concept of civilization and settlement. Once we learned to settle, humans found an urge to visit these various settlements, which created the idea of traveling. With urbanization and industrialization, we came up with multiple ways to travel. Walking on foot was replaced with transportation systems like cycles, cars, buses which later developed into trains, flights, cruise lines, and metros. This wide range of transportation is still growing at a breakneck pace. Not only this created a new sector of urban designing for urban planners to work on, but even architects also had to now think of designing the structures where their modes of transportation would halt or provide facilities to the travelers. This field of architecture is where we create infrastructure for transportation systems, and today we are shining some light on it.
The transportation architecture wraps up the continuous movement of the people and vehicles. It provides a static shelter to the constant kinetic structure of the people in there. These structures are very different from other typologies of architecture as there is always an influx of people either leaving a place or reaching the destination. Not only do they have to provide a space for the arrival and departure of people, but it has to work on a more practical and emotional level as well. Looking deep into this, we realize places like this, whether it be a bus stop, a metro station, ship harbor, airport, railway station, or any other such transit stop, it has a deep emotional connection as people are leaving and arriving and thus it marks a part of a journey.
These structures even play a significant contribution in giving the city an identity. These various transit stops, when appropriately designed, can create landmarks in the city. They would act as essential points in the town that characterizes it. Just like, we mark a map with pin marks; these structures at various places help us relatively track the surroundings and our location.
Now for understanding the architecture of transportation, we need to understand the types of people who travel. Firstly, there are the local people who use transportation for their daily needs like pedestrians, people riding cycles, cars, bikes. These people require proper walkways, bus stops, bicycle stands, and car parking areas. The second type of travelers are those who travel from one place to another and use trains, flights, buses, and ships to travel. These require a more large-scaled infrastructure and have a significant impact on the city and the people. It becomes the primary source of the economy for a town, and many times, visitors judge the town by the railway stations, airports, and other transportation stops in the city.
Transportation architecture was always a part of architecture since historic times. Flights, metros, bullet trains, and ships were not so common during those days. There was a time when trains were the most preferred way to travel, and thus designing the railway stations was a work of remarkable scope for the architects. History stands as an attestation to these beautiful monumental railway stations, some of which we still admire. Some famous railway stations are Grand Central Terminal in New York, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai, Saint Pancras in London, Chicago Union Station, and others. These historic railway stations were built in the historic architectural styles like Gothic, Renaissance, Roman styles to create a massive presence, and they continue to govern the architectural value of the city.
In modern times, architects have understood that places like railway stations or airports are very romantic spaces filled with a tearful goodbye and happy reunions full of emotions. This has transformed the way transportation architecture is practiced these days. In historical times, the main focus was on following a particular architectural style, prevalent in the city and covering basic functionalities. Today, the focus has shifted on creating a static skin that would encase the constant movement of people and transportation systems while housing their emotions.
Transportation architecture has also become a structure of great economic value for a city. It sometimes directly reflects the financial status of the place by the grandness and facilities it keeps in store for the travelers. For some architects, it is an excellent opportunity to showcase their design skills on a larger scale. For others, it is a beautiful amalgamation of motion and stillness leading to creating something somewhat timeless pragmatically that any traveler can relate with.
These days, the concept of sustainability is being incorporated in many typologies, and it has become chiefly important in public structures. The Bicycle Hotel Lillestrøm in Norway was designed as an initiative from the Norwegian government and complied with the sustainability goals, providing facilities for bicycle parking and hotels near the commuter train stations to discourage the use of private cars in the city. It sits on a concrete base and intends to provide cycle parking and protect them from heavy traffic. The U- form with a stepping-ramp on the side merges the wooden roof with the landscape and provides the viewer a view of the city. Now, this was the example of a transit architecture designed for use by local people.
Sometimes, the old stations are restored and modified according to the current demand and needs of the people. The Kings Cross Station in London, which was built in the 19th century, was refurbished recently. The new addition restored its scenic splendor design. The restoration covered around 27 hectares of land, making it a multi-use transportation hub connected to the St. Pancras Station. Contrary to the original design, the new addition shifts the axis of the building to the side by adding a parametric canopy of metal and glass. Not only has it tripled the station’s ground coverage, but it also has increased the number of people that can travel at a time. Like any other structure related to transportation, Kings cross station has also become the architectural gateway of London. It is one of the most outstanding examples of how the refurbishment of the previously built structures is also a part of transportation architecture.
Sometimes, the design of transportation systems is designed so that they represent the socio-political context of the city. Similarly, Santiago Calatrava designed the World Trade Centre Transportation Hub. The operable skylight opens every 9/11 to allow sunlight inside the hub, which brings in sunlight that represents hope and energy. The design is unique as a self-standing structure, which adds a new identity to the city of New York and symbolizes the bird, “ Phoenix.”
Transportation architecture covers the large-scale railway stations, airports, and also the simple walkways pathways that the pedestrians use. Also, at times, it becomes a multi-disciplinary practice as it requires the fusion of urban designing, landscaping, transportation, architecture, and other social and economic aspects. In Australia, the Link Walkway used a timber structure to create a ribbed vault effect, providing an exciting pathway and protection to pedestrians. With the minimal addition of systems to the pre-existing spaces, these walkway pedestrians beautify the areas and increase the safety and movement of people.
With the increasing population worldwide, there is an increase in infrastructure, leading to rapid vehicular use. In the coming times, newer technologies will surely come up, leading to more transit stops. It may also happen that our vision of flying cars continues in the future, which would create the need for more infrastructure. The scope of transportation architecture is global today and has an immense potential to bloom.