Train Station Architectural Design Fundamentals – Part 3 (An Activity Node)
The well-designed station that considers the modern commuter and community member can be much more than a place to buy a ticket and wait.
If you’ve ever been alone at a vacant train station at night, you know that can be an unsettling feeling. If, on the other hand, the area around the facility is bright and alive with activity, that’s a completely different experience.
My last post about train stations gave specific design tips for achieving a safe station. This time, I’m focusing more on the overall impression that the station conveys. However, as you will see, that impression impacts the extent to which occupants feel safe.
I encourage architects and owners to think of the train station as a vibrant activity node, rather than merely a place to buy a ticket and wait. When the station is a hub of activity day and night, the feeling of comfort grows tremendously. It’s a place where people want to be.
Something to think about before design even comes into the discussion: what amenities should a train station offer? These days, a small nook that offers coffee and candy bars might not be enough.
A more advanced café with food service or even a full-fledged restaurant within the station will entice commuters to come in early for a light breakfast, or to stay and have dinner before heading back to their cars. Even community members who may have no intention of taking a train might come in and have a meal.
And what about technology? Has the station adapted? Does it offer power jacks? WiFi? If it does, commuters are more likely to want to spend time at the station.
Contemporary amenities attract more people, which translates to safety.
I’m familiar with a breakfast/lunch restaurant that almost always has a long wait. Yes, it serves good food, but I also believe the restaurant’s architecture plays into its popularity. It’s by no means an award-winning design, but its brickwork, copper details, and pitched roofs convey a historic, cozy aesthetic.
I share this example to make a point: that the design of a facility does impact people’s willingness to use it.
Similarly, the design of the train station influences whether people perceive it as a destination. The right materials and style, whether traditional or contemporary, can invite people to spend more time in the station.
Certain architectural touches make people feel good about being in or near a station. For instance, clock towers provide visual focal points for surrounding areas. Canopied areas with masonry walls and plazas with umbrellas and picnic tables or benches create secure, defined meeting areas.
The design of the Tinley Park 80th Avenue Metra Station, for example, stays true to the late 19th century Richardsonian Romanesque style. The stone and brick walls, the copper trim, the slate roofs, and the clock tower create a welcoming feel.
Inside, the train station should create a living room atmosphere, a place where people are comfortable not only waiting for a train, but also having a bagel and reading a book or a tablet.
Again, the Tinley Park 80th Avenue station carries through some of its exterior brickwork to create a warm, rustic interior. The great hall features a large Tiffany-style chandelier, a 25-foot-high ceiling made of Douglas fir wood, and a stone stand-alone fireplace with two exhaust pipes made of copper.
That station, within walking distance of other village facilities, offers strong design, an Internet café with free WiFi, and even a full-service kitchen. It’s an activity node. I’ve even heard of people having wedding receptions there.
The train station can serve as a respite from the anxiety that urban haste causes. It offers benefits to many: a breath of fresh air to the rushed, a place to stop and linger for the stressed, a piece of the past for the nostalgic, a sense of pride for neighbors, and a glimpse of what a town is all about for commuters. When you put all these together, you have a place that feels safe.
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