Café within King's Cross station with innovative use of lighting

+ Let’s not lose our stations from the heart of civic life but restore them with innovation and excitement.

Stations have increasingly become transitional, functional spaces; neglected as places for us to take delight in. I think we need to revive the vitality and vigour they once brought to the everyday lives of their communities. 

Stations of the past were at the heart of civic life, alongside libraries, post offices and even power stations. Learning from history can help us to create more vibrant, useful and integrated station spaces that have the community at their core. Without the bustle of bodies stepping onto the platform, rushing to catch the next departing train, greeting loved ones or waving them goodbye, our stations would not only be soul-less but purpose-less. Broadening our view to see them as nodes of urban redevelopment will help us to avoid creating a ‘one size fits all’ solution. 

Designers need to look deeper into our communities to encourage more creativity, unlocking tailored and forward-thinking forms of regeneration. People sit at the very heart of our cities, and their stations, which is why we need to engage local communities in the renewal of these spaces, to encourage collaborative and bespoke urban transformation. Like a person, each city and each station has its own personality and we need to create innovative new uses for these buildings to remain at the heart of the communities they serve. Stations need to be re-created, to work for each individual space and to optimise the value they create as part of the wider city. And it’s not just large city stations that need to be reignited, we need to give smaller stations more attention too.

Designers need to work with the people who use these civic spaces to find out not only what they really want, but what they need. An interesting example of this is the insertion of a library into the facilities of a Danish swimming pool. What started as a clever way to engage adults with children in swimming lessons became an opportunity for those children to discover and embrace literature. 

Another example of this innovative thinking is Daan Roosegaarde’s Smart Highway perspective on ‘hacking’ roads instead of vehicles to digitally monitor and adapt to light and weather. This reflects a new way of thinking yet to have been exhibited in the regeneration of communal spaces and particularly in stations.

A Copenhagen power station which hosts a ski slope in the winter and transforms to a skate park in the summer, is another great example of how we can think smarter about reigniting urban public space. This building has been transformed from a dead, uninhabited power hub into an active and central part of the local community. 

Let’s not lose our stations from the heart of civic life but restore them with innovation and excitement. Not only do we need to consult with the community, but we need to think outside our traditional infrastructural boundaries. If we don’t create spaces people want to enjoy, what role will they play in society?