‘The future’ is a phrase that conjures up visions of hover cars, expressways in the sky and vertical cities. A utopian place where everyone is happy, everything runs like clockwork and all aspects of life are in order.
Alternative visions of the future are available. he acid rain drenched future of Ridley Scott’s ‘Bladerunner
‘– a dying planet run by corporations. Orwell’s ‘1984’ – a world run by a malevolent big brother. And ‘Rollerball’ – effectively a violent, dysfunctional hybrid of the other two.
So what will be the future of rail and, more specifically, station design? Will we all be standing on acid rain-drenched platforms while being watched by big brother? I like to think the future will be a better world so let’s start by thinking of the things that could be improved. In future, all stations and platforms will be fully accessible (DDA compliant) and feel safe and reassuring – even those in remote locations that are unmanned. They will cater adequately for all types of connections with safe, secure parking for cars, proper storage for commuters’ bicycles and strategic integration with the wider transport network.
Information, including wayfinding, will be clear and well located and presented (again, DDA compliant). Timetables and next train information will be easily understood and up-to-date. Within the twin constraints of demand and cost of provision, reasonable amenities will be present, from wide-ranging shopping and eating propositions in larger stations to sensibly priced vending in smaller stations.
The most fundamental of needs, shelter, should not be forgotten. Basic protection to shield us from the worst of our British weather including wind and rain and, where possible, dry, draught-free waiting rooms.
My increasing use of our rail network over the last ten years tells me that much of the wish list above is starting to become more commonplace. Progress is indeed being made. I have, however, one major concern to do with another of our basic needs. We are all human and have a need to be treated as such. We all need a sense of place and a sense of belonging. We all benefit from places which enrich our being rather than just serving our most basic needs. This is where good design makes a real difference.
Contrast Leeds station with somewhere like Westminster Underground station. Both are relatively new and modern in their construction and architecture. There the similarity ends. Leeds station is clean, bright, modern and efficient but something is missing. It is cold and impersonal. It feels like a big, soul-less people processing machine.
Westminster Underground station is also a big people processing machine – it has to be and even more so than Leeds but it has character, style and a sense of place in abundance. The large dramatic spaces, the on-display structural elements, the cathedral-like space and the use of lighting to add depth, warmth and interest. It could have been a large bland space but intelligent design has made it soar and express itself and make the experience of using it rewarding rather than dreary. The difference is good design that remembers that people are human.
Moving to the external architecture, arriving at a station prior to a journey should have a sense of occasion and the station itself should connect to its surroundings. Equally importantly at journey’s end, arrival at your destination station should immediately give you a hint of what to expect from the place at which you now find yourself. Subtle design cues and hints are enough to give sense of your new location and what to expect. No town, city or village could wish visitors’ first impression to be a negative one, yet that is what many inadvertently give you through their rail stations.
Whether you are travelling for business or leisure, become newly conscious of the subconscious feelings that station environments create and you will soon feel as strongly as I do about this. Too often we feel there is too little joy in our lives. Great design can add joy to almost everything we do, feel and experience. Great station design is the future of station design and something that can bring the joy back into rail travel.
Gavin McMurray is sales & marketing director at Merson Signs Limited
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