The control of zones by tracing limits and creating connections is one of the main human interventions in a landscape. Limits and connections whose establishment in various types of (urban, infrastructure, information) networks, concurrently numerous, dense and complex, has rendered phrases such as the “network city” or the “network society” very common in the last two decades. Concomitant result of the economic globalization and technological revolution which subsequently led to the information technology, the “network city” is an agglomeration of urban centers linked to the continuous growth of industrial and residential areas, accompanied by social detachment and mobility (1). In the net of urban networks, it is the nodes where the infrastructure lines cross and the activities concentrate. The nodes, containing crossroads and points of transfer for people and commodities, vary in terms of scale and complexity: from bus terminals and railway stations to ports and airports. In addition to their functional role, they also take on a symbolic significance, they are endowed with aesthetic value, contributing to defining the image of the city in which they are located.
The mechanism of intermodality was triggered in the 1980s by the introduction of high speed trains. Although the transition from train to carriage or taxi may also be labeled as transfer between different means of transportation, the difference resides in the spontaneous solution of juxtaposition and in the planned integration system. Along the development of railway stations, from the simple “wharf” platform (thus called after the image of transportation by river), to the railway station equipped with a facility for travelers, we arrive at the railway station turned into a nucleus of intermodal exchanges, a place for transfers between the various modes of transportation, transformation accompanied by a wide range of interventions: creation of a representative and symbolic image; opening the railway station towards the city and the city towards the railway station; functional restructuring to make it clear, comfortable, efficient (especially by means of easy links to other public or private transportation means – underground, tramway, bus, automobile etc.), in other words, to accommodate intermodality (2). All the places accommodating passengers have set out to achieve such interconnections. With a configuration primarily determined by technical criteria, whose complexity has increased in parallel with the integration of the multimodal transportation systems, the size of an intermodal node can sometimes render more difficult its integration in context. Whether it is placed in the city or outside it, the intermodal node – railway station, airport, underground or tramway station – proves to be a good opportunity for urban densification, accompanied by restructuring or expansion.
In an urban agglomeration, the railway station, usually adjoined by a bus terminal, important parking spaces and sometimes an underground or a tramway station is a solid point on the urban arrangement plans. In a district, the railway station is associated with recomposed and redesigned public squares and spaces, which enables the rethinking of traffic flows (3). Traditional railway stations restructured as intermodal nodes find themselves, subsequent to the interventions, in a more advantageous urban situation, being often brought into focus by the restoration or rehabilitation works performed on the buildings as such and on their interiors. The railway station has also evolved and modernized its sign system once the electronic bulletin boards have been introduced. The scale and irregularity of pedestrian traffic will guide the choices made in terms of arrangement works: the finishing of the pavement, the presence of numerous escalators, recurrent display boards, the highlighting of natural light, the clearing and opening of spaces, and – on the whole – the more rational treatment of traffic flows. Sometimes the very consistent pedestrian flows lead to an unusually high traffic through the intermodal node, increasing the temptation to take advantage of these customers by means of commercial centers which come with their own specific functional, spatial and architectural constraints – low ceilings, focused lighting and, sometimes, aggressively banal interiors – an aspect which interferes with the identity of the railway universe.
The rest of the article can be found in issue no 5/2011 of Arhitext
1. Meto J. VROOM: Lexicon of garden and landscape architecture (Birkhäuser, 2006) p. 220.
2. Périmètres d’intermodalité, in Techniques & architecture, No. 491, August-September 2007, p.19.
3. Bertrand LEMOINE: La gare au centre? in: Techniques & architecture, no. 491, August-September 2007, p.23.