Better Stations, Better Cities

by Robert Bowen

Each day we struggle with the remnants of Modernism, I’m not talking in this case of the giant windy spaces between oversized concrete monoliths. No today I’m talking the result of modern planning. Today things are put into zones, we abide by a zoning scheme. A ridiculous concept really, considering cities are far too complex to be so simply categorized into compartments. Yet that is what we have and as a result people have to primarily by the ‘machine of the future’ the car from a residential zone to a work zone.

Zoning seems far too entrenched in our psyches to be replaced any time soon, but the problems it has created are starting to be recognised and addressed. Transport nodes through which millions of people must pass each day are being seen as more significant by the powers that be and are at the forefront of our design minds.

See here a proposed redesign of Salt River station. With the city expanding into the Woodstock Salt River region ever more people will be passing through to get to work. It’s worth considering then that this station will be in need of an upgrade soon. This upgrade could possibly also provide the catalyst required to accelerate the regions development.

This brings me too a bold proposal by Alexander Amman, a recent Masters Graduate at UCT. The project floats a sensuous roof over the platform providing the civic aesthetic the space requires while then further creating spaces worthy of a healthy public domain.

We should begin to reconsider all of our transport nodes. Not just their formal configuration but also their function. The space between one form of transport and another is an opportunity. The manipulation of this space by architects could provide benefits far beyond those achieved satisfying the minimum functions alone. In fact perhaps a rethinking of the minimum functions is in order.

What if each station was to be treated as a chance to create a public destination irrespective of whether or not you intended to catch a train or taxi.  What functions would allow this to happen? Cross programming our transport nodes beyond the expected could lead us to these solutions, for example; Interchange + public baths, mini golf, car wash, arcade, church, beer garden and wind tunnel.

What is more could our stations be created in such a way as to welcome functions not yet know to us.

While it is clear our future desperately needs the upgrade of our public transport let us not be overly focused on the destination and miss the opportunities the journey presents.