Rendering and illustration by NET Engineering
Urban redevelopment – transformation and revalorisation of railway stationsA discussional and multi-disciplinary approach
The role of architectural and engineering design in the transformation and revalorisation of railway stations, currently ongoing throughout Italy, lies in being able to design a place that not only responds to its primary function but is also attractive, captivating and welcoming for the end-user and, at the same time, expresses the identity of the context in which it was built. This is the direction to take in the projects for the redevelopment of Italian railway stations, an integral part of their urban context whose identity and specific nature they have contributed to shaping.
Redeveloping a station means taking care of the redesign of both internal and external areas, often working in situations protected by the laws on Cultural Heritage and Landscape: redevelopment of the buildings for travellers (arrangement of interiors, reorganisation of spaces to increase functionality, re-roofing and work on façades, and structural strengthening for safety purposes); demolition and design from scratch of accessory buildings; the restoration, redevelopment or design of subways, platform roofs and platforms; design of green areas; redevelopment or design from scratch of the external service areas and bike parks; connections with the existing road network, and transport analyses and accessibility studies.
Discussion as a method
A strong planning method, moved by discussion, is essential for carrying forward various projects at the same time. Productive, constant discussion, especially with the client, involving them from the very beginning of the design in a process of listening and discussion that allows the best design choices to be made, cancels the phases of re-working and significantly reduces project development times. This approach generates growing trust for the client in the designers, who have the chance to be seen as a qualified contact in relation to all the topics that are involved in this type of project. In addition, the use of BIM modelling and software giving an almost realistic 3D view of the subject of design, facilitate the discussion and increase its effectiveness.
These are tools that also enable a concrete view of how each station relates to the urban or landscape context. On this, special attention must be paid to the railway route. Although seen historically as a fracture in the urban fabric, the railway should be valorised so that it becomes homogenous with its environment.
The subject of design can talk to the reference context through skilful use of design software, at the same time dealing with any obstacles that emerge. It is important to act following a systemic approach that allows all the disciplines at play (architecture, structure, systems, calculations, safety and sites, and transport) to converse effectively so that every problem found can be resolved successfully.
The most recent amendments to the legislation and the introduction of the Do No Significant Harm (DNSH) principle, which establishes that operations set out by the Piano Nazionale di Ripresa e Resilienza (PNRR – National Recovery Programme) do not harm the environment, motivate the search for answers that further increase the value of station redevelopment projects, introducing design elements sustainable from the energy, environment, hydraulic, systems design and choice of materials points of view.
Mobility studies, aimed at finding out the transport requirements of the areas involved in the works and indicating the development plans, have a primary role in the station redevelopment and regeneration projects. Designing a station hub from the perspective of ‘mobility hub’ and envisaging its complete rearrangement following an integrated approach for the allocation of the different mobility services and internal spaces of the building and the logical definition of the distributing elements (paths, passage ways, underpasses, etc.) enables accessibility to be effectively simplified. A digital platform useful for geolocalising and typifying all the geometric, infrastructure and functional elements found in the hub can be implemented for the purpose to support the project choices and the expected relative impacts.
Transport analyses should always be developed starting from principle that pedestrians guide the project. A station or interchange hub can’t ignore the fact that the users move on foot – inside it and/or to reach it. Pedestrian accessibility, inside and outside the station, can be estimated using a station graph, an effective tool to quantify the distances and duration in comparison with the expected flows.
At the same time, the simultaneous analysis of the offer (the space and its services) and the demand (the users), including the study of the main origins/destinations of travellers reaching the station, distances, travel times, directions, paths and modal-split, can be started to ensure the definition of a layout able to guarantee the full operativity of interchange hubs.
A new system for Italian stations, seen as multi-modal hubs for the first time, can be designed starting from this data, bringing the station closer to the town and re-joining the urban environment and the railway hub.
This article is based on a NET Engineering project presented in the publication Networks (only italian language available)