Some Grand Ideas above Our Station; Modern Trains and Splendid Stations. Edited by Martha Thorne (Merrell/The Art Institute of Chicago, Pounds 25). Reviewed by Ross Reyburn
Byline: Ross Reyburn
Great cities should have great stations. While the surrounding landscape is dominated by tower cranes, Birmingham's determination to keep the frontage of New Street Station looking like the entrance to some jumbo multi-storey car park inspired by 1960s architectural barbarism remains a puzzle.
The external ugliness of Birmingham's hidden station, one of the busiest in Europe, seems even more incongruous when viewing the visionary architectural designs featured in Modern Trains and Splendid Stations, a fascinating examination of the worldwide future of rail travel linked with an exhibition being held at The Art Institute of Chicago from December 8 until July 29 next year.
Many of the designs featured in the book have a futuristic, gleaming, space-age look with their unpredictable curves, angles and shapes.
They offer a somewhat disjointed contrast to the ordered architectural grandeur of the great stations of the past, whether we are talking about the Victorian ornateness of Sir Gilbert Scott's neo-Gothic St Pancras Station (1873) or Fellheimer & Wagner's Union Station in Cincinnati, Ohio (1933), with its art deco monumental arch.
But they are visionary designs on the grand scale offering what is hopefully a prelude to a worldwide revival of rail travel.
The book pays overdue homage to the railway station as a vital architectural gateway to a city that can have an influence on the surrounding landscape as well as offering a telling first impression of a city to the new visitor.
Spanish architect/engineer Santiago Calatrava's Oriente Station in Lisbon, Portugal, offers an impressive example of the role a railway station can play in a city's life. Built as a gateway to Expo '98 in the decaying industrial sector on the eastern side of the city by the banks of the Tagus River, the station's vast steel and glass platform canopies have a cathedralesque grandeur.
Outside, the station entrance with its arched canopy offers a futuristic entry point conveying the image 'of an oasis' at night with its subdued lighting giving the platform canopies a palm-tree look.
The architect, whose Lyon-Satolas Station design in France is hailed as transforming engineering into sculpture, has ensured that the scene remains visually unscathed and the pedestrian has priority by driving car parking underground.
Elsewhere the book highlights the station designs of leading world architects such as Renzo Piano, James Stirling, Sir Norman Foster and Rafael Moneo.
The numerous Japanese stations illustrate that country's recognition of the importance of a railway culture. And the spaceship design of Bothe-Richter-Teherani's new station at Frankfurt Airport, compared with the modest scale of Arne Henriksen's Sandvika Station in Norway with its shop features, shows the wide-ranging variety of new station design highlighted by the publication. …