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Modern Trains and Splendid Stations: Architecture, Design and Rail Travel for the Twenty-first Century

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Edited by Martha Thorne. The Art Institute of Chicago, Merrell (London). 160pp, US$39.95

The third in a series that includes air travel and space travel, Modern Trains and Splendid Stations accompanies a forthcoming exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago* profiling the current state of railway station design, writes Austin Williams. James Wood, director of the institute, describes stations as 'cathedrals of the Industrial Revolution'and the book makes an attempt to understand why, in the so-called technological revolution, stations seem to be making a comeback. Unfortunately, theory is thin on the ground, and even though the photographs are very impressive, and beautifully presented, the book would have benefited from more detail.

The opening essays are light and informative, and the fact that new stations are being built on decrepit infrastructure is an important underlying admission (see AJ 29.04.01).

Some of the text accompanying individual building studies begins to reveal the accomplished planning and logistical intricacies involved in laying out a railway station in the middle of historic street patterns.But, to a certain extent, these stories have been sacrificed in favour of the visual appeal of the buildings.Most notable amongst the stations on display are Santiago Calatrava's incredible Oriete Station in Lisbon (pictured) - a real cathedral to rail transport - and Ralph Moneo's deceptively simple Atocha Station in Madrid, using a flat roof to create a towering internal space which might otherwise have been lost in arches.

Other notable inclusions are Skidmore Owings and Merrill's current proposal for Pennsylvania Station New York (which has echoes of Foster's Reichstag), and Ingehoven, Overdiek and Partners'main station in Stuttgart which, ironically, seems to be modelled on gas station canopy design.

My own favourite is Lehrter Station in Berlin by von Gerkan, Marg + Partners, but there is enough variety here for you to play this game at home.

*The current Space exhibition closes on 21 October and the Rail exhibition opens from 8 December 2001 - 28 July 2002

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