Integrating station and city

High-speed trains have brought stations back into the spotlight all over Europe. Researcher and architect Ana Conceição studied how these buildings are best woven into the city.

Having been raised alongside a railway track in Portugal, Conceição knows from experience how railways divide rather than integrate cities. That applies to the original railway lines from over a century ago. Nowadays the tracks are mostly lifted or buried to improve the connection with the city. When Conceição started to study the new generation of railway stations for the high-speed trains, her interest soon went beyond the spatial planning issues into the study of the mutual influences between the station and its urban surroundings. It was to become a six-year PhD study, which she finalised with a thesis titled From City’s Station to Station City.

The role of architecture in improving the performance of station’s spaces in the process of area redevelopment is underestimated, says Conceição. The project’s stakeholders are ultimately largely concerned with economic benefits and less so with social and environmental issues. They tend to see the architecture from an aesthetic perspective, thereby ignoring its potential in structuring spaces. ‘Architecture can provide new directions to the definition of station area spaces, which can mitigate their problems’, writes Conceição, referring to station’s spaces such as dark no-go areas.

During her research, she has studied six stations intensively: Basel and Utrecht (with ground level railway infrastructure); Amsterdam and Lisbon (elevated railway structures) and Antwerp and Turin (featuring underground railways). She has studied the stations both as a node between modes of transport and as a place in the city. She concluded that although all projects aim for spatial accessibility and integration, not all projects have been equally successful in reaching smooth integration. Some stations still suffer from front and back syndrome, where less noble activities and housing congregate on one side of the station only. Another mismatch is, as inTurin, when the station dominates its surroundings as shopping area, thereby running the risk of becoming a luxury island in a desolate part of the city.

For a station to be in balance with its surroundings, redevelopment of the station should extend to incorporate the immediate surroundings of the building as well, concludes Conceição. This task requires the stakeholders to cooperate in a common spatial goal from the onset of the project. Not only should transport and non-transport functions be clearly organised in space, but also all barriers to their accessibility dismantled. The spatial continuity between city and station should be maximised. This integration can only work if stakeholders are aware of the importance of the spatial performance of the station area. Meanwhile, she argues, architects shouldn’t be shy to go beyond their traditional scope of a building, and shift their focus to the intermediate scale between the station and its surroundings.

For concrete design guidelines and thorough analysis, consult her thesis.

Ana Luísa Martins da Conceição, From city’s station to station city – an integrative spatial approach to the (re)development of station areas, January 2015, PhD supervisors Prof. ir. Leen van Duin and Dr. ir. Roberto Cavallo (TU Faculty of Architecture) and Prof. Dr. ir. Luca Bertolini (University of Amsterdam).

Editor Redactie

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