28 Jun 2018

Trains are more than a mode of transport for the masses. The unprecedented investment in rail infrastructure means that train stations can help us catalyse great Australian cities, says Urbis director Princess Ventura.

From the spectacular gothic revival architecture at London’s St Pancras to Venice’s Santa Lucia train station set right on the Grand Canal, some cities know how to create a sense of arrival.

Transport hubs have always been gateways and our arrival experience colours our first impressions of a place.

But around the world, transport hubs are also becoming destinations in their own right. And this demands a more thoughtful approach to train station design, Ventura says.

Around the world, transport hubs are also becoming destinations in their own right. And this demands a more thoughtful approach to train station design.

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“In the past, we looked at train stations simply as a mode of transport to get the masses from A to B. Now we understand that train stations can be a catalyst for creating great Australian cities,” Ventura says.

“We are moving towards a more collaborative, coordinated and integrated approach to land use and transport planning. Train stations are no longer just a transport solution,” Ventura says.

Instead, train stations can become “mixed-use urban villages that are high in amenity and accessibility” – and can deliver services and experiences far beyond supermarkets and shops.

Think schools, hospitals, research facilities and retirement living – and all on the right side of the tracks.

This is all happening in other parts of the world, Ventura explains and points to Singapore’s Kampung Admiralty development.

This 11-storey complex – which integrates retirement living units, medical and surgical services, childcare and eldercare centres and shops – is located right next to the Admiralty MRT station. Public spaces, including a fully-sheltered community plaza on the ground level, encourage the elderly to leave their homes to socialise, while a childcare centre with around 200 places promotes inter-generational bonding.

“Kampung Admiralty shows how train stations can support a more diverse and inclusive mix of uses,” Ventura says.

Ventura says the spaces in between a train station are as important as what’s inside.

Singapore’s ION Orchard, built directly above the MRT, is not just a shopping centre but a meeting place at the heart of the neighbourhood.

“The train station has been there forever. What is changing is the sense of place that is being created around the station.”

The World Trade Center transportation hub, dubbed Oculus, may look like a bunch of dinosaur bones or a bird in flight, but it’s undeniably New York, Ventura adds.

“St Pancras Station in London or Fed Square in Melbourne – both of these stations offer a sense of arrival. But most train stations – like Macquarie Park in Sydney – bring you to nothing more than an intersection or a busy road. This is a missed opportunity to create something amazing.”

A train station with a strong sense of place is more likely to attract people. “And as more people use the station, it feels safer, which attracts even more people. And the more a station is used, the quicker it will pay for itself.”

It’s a virtuous circle, Ventura adds. “And the benefits can be exponential.”

This article was first published in Property Australia. 

View our guide, ‘Shaping destinations, not just stations’, to learn more about the 10 “winning trends” driving the transformation of transportation hubs.