A closer look at what it takes to make the train station a productive piece of the civic landscape
My last post on train station design argued that the right architecture can make the train station much more than a place to wait—a well-conceived design can improve visitors’ perception of a community, spur the local economy, and stimulate pride among residents.
What, then, are the elements of a productive train station?
Architectural styles and associated materials form the cornerstone of a train station’s image. Whereas brick and stone typically suggest a traditional appearance, steel and glass are most often used to establish a more contemporary look.
The design of Metra’s Glenview, Illinois station uses warm, red masonry and rusticated stone arches in a Richardsonian Romanesque style. American architect Henry Hobson Richardson, inspired by 11th and 12th century Richardsonian architecture in Europe, introduced this revival style in the late 19th century. In the case of the Glenview station, built in 1995, the style launched a precedent that helped define downtown Glenview’s historic look.
Another traditional option that is especially effective here in the Midwest is Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie style. Strong horizontal lines build up to a large central element. The Bartlett, Illinois station, located next to a large mixed-use-development, exemplifies this style. It creates a sense of monumentality, even though the station is much smaller than the development.
In some cases, materials can be used to create a modern interpretation of a more traditional style. For instance, a new station in Dwight, Illinois was designed to inspire high-speed rail service along the busy Chicago-St. Louis corridor. Stone and brick respect the surrounding facilities, while pitched roofs and a curtain wall suggest the movement associated with high-speed rail.
The Right Touches
Certain architectural touches make people feel good about being near a station. Clock towers provide visual focal points for surrounding areas. Canopied areas with masonry walls and shaded seating options create secure, defined meeting areas.
Outdoor plazas not only inspire future development, but also encourage community gathering. The Village of Tinley Park has used its two stations to do just that. For example, The Gen. Patrick E. Rea Veterans Plaza (80th Avenue Station) plays host to the village’s annual Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies. The Oak Park Avenue Station’s Zabrocki Plaza has welcomed everything from farmers markets to music festivals.
This concept also applies to station interiors. Adding windows can breathe new life (and light) into a previously dark waiting area. Colorful concrete panels can spruce up a once-dingy wall.
Wood and stone can create an interior feel that is warm and rustic.
Enticements to Stay
Often, when commuters step off the train after a long day at work, they are greeted with stations that are dark and closed. No wonder they scurry back to their cars so quickly.
And once passengers step inside the station, is there anything there to urge them to hang around? In many cases, there isn’t much more than a corner nook that offers a few candy bars and a pot of coffee. No thanks.
What if commuters were greeted instead with well-lit areas, the scents of fresh food and coffee, and the sounds of people chatting while enjoying a good meal within the station?
Today’s stations offer amenities such as full cafés and/or restaurants to encourage commuters (and community members) to spend more time there. Tinley Park’s stations, with their traditional interiors, have even hosted wedding receptions.
When a station’s food provider stays open into the evening, it provides a sense of psychological comfort . . . and may even encourage commuters to stop for a cup of coffee or a bite to eat before strolling back to their cars.
Safety at the Foundation
Underlying all my recommendations for productive train stations is commuter safety. Keeping views open is essential. The design of the ticket agent’s office, for example, should enable the agent to monitor activity throughout the station. This person should also have good views of the tracks.
Again, the presence of others gives commuters a feeling of security. Many stations, however, are not located in busy urban areas. In this situation, I often recommend that stations use glass walls to expose the station’s interior. At night, this strategy makes indoor activity highly visible to those outside the building.
For more on train station safety, see my post Safety Above All Else.
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