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Driving forward transport on a grand scale

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The complex requirements and constraints of global transport hubs were explored in depth at the AJ's Interchange conference sponsored by Argent. Leading names in transport architecture presented current schemes. Austin Williams was there

Interchange, a major exhibition and conference convened by the AJ and its owner Emap Construct at London's ExCel conference centre last week, brought together a range of design professionals, manufacturers, politicians and academics, to discuss the future of transport interchange provision.

In the main hall, among the stands displaying futuristic rapid transit systems, the exhibition 'Interchange Exchange' provided an interesting mix of interactivity, installation art and architectural design, culminating in a 'feedback wall' asking the public to contribute comments on the likely future of transport.

It was apt indeed that the three-day conference took place at the time of the government's PPG13 Transport policy launch, which states that local authorities should maximize the development opportunities around transport hubs. This regulatory framework had been considered by politicians on the first two days of the conference and fitted well into the final day's debate on 'Designing Interchanges', where the AJ's Paul Finch hosted a fast and furious exposition of a range of complex, high-profile schemes, from Britain to the Far East.

Paul Scott of TP Bennett presented proposals for the Railtrack scheme at London Bridge, examining the historic origins of the site and providing a clear insight into the design process, which drew heavily on the historical context. Scott emphasised the need for 'clarity of understanding' (or 'legibility in design') and showed how ease of vision across rail concourses gave rise to a more satisfactory use and appreciation of those spaces.

Tim Stonor of Space Syntax confirmed that the depth of visibility into a space increases its use. From data of 100 people 'stalked' through Tate Britain, a multi-layered movement pattern diagram was drawn up. This was compared with an independently-produced computer diagram generated by simply grading routes in terms of ease of visibility. The similarities between the two models were sufficiently obvious to encourage further research, which Stonor will feed into station design to aid travel flows as well as optimizing the siting of commercial enterprises.

The Victorian model of a station as terminus isolated from its urban surroundings was challenged by the range of designs on show, which all sought to knit themselves back into the public realm. All speakers emphasised the need for clarity, contextuality and transparency in design, and this was shown to good effect in the development of ideas for Paddington Station. Keith Brewis of Nicholas Grimshaw and Partners described the complexities of both the Paddington scheme and proposals for Reading Station.

The expressiveness and transparency of the structural form of Paddington (which is also clear in early concept drawings for Reading) show off the ambitious and inviting nature of modern station architecture - encouraging non-users of the transport system to consider the station as part of the public realm. Recent surveys of Liverpool Street carried out by Stonor, for example, revealed that 33 per cent of all people using the concourse were just shopping - not using the building for transport at all.

Brewis admitted that his two original impressions of Paddington had been 'sheer thrill at Brunel's cathedral spaces' followed by 'disappointment at the clutter that has amassed since the Second World War'. Clearing away that clutter would provide the opportunity to 'revitalize the sense of the original grandeur'. The architects have attempted to arrange the structural elements longitudinally to maximize the visual intelligibility of the space while trying, through careful detailing, to 'make sculptural forms of structural elements', in the same way that had been done in the original scheme.

The afternoon was kicked off by Terry Farrell with a roller-coaster presentation on the conceptualization, design and site works at Inchon International Airport (see AJ 29.3.01) and Kowloon Station. The scale of design and project management of these new build interchanges is breathtaking. Just one small portion of the scheme was given over to a '50-taxi simultaneous pick-up point', for example.

The main afternoon session reviewed work at King's Cross and St Pancras. John McAslan discussed the complexities of replacing the 1970s ticket hall in front of King's Cross; Roger Madelin of Argent, chosen developer for 22ha behind the stations, outlined strategy; Alan Baxter concluded with reminders of our relative ignorance of nineteenth century infrastructure, its history and future relevance.

One of the questions from the floor hinted at the need for similar grand-scale thinking in UK projects. The gradual upgrading of our Victorian stations is not before time, but given that there is the same infrastructure underneath, around and within these new interchanges, what will be the likely knock-on effects to areas outside the brief, if road, rail and underground infrastructure do not expand accordingly?

We may have to reassemble at the next Interchange conference - on 19-21 March 2002 - to hear the answers.

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