How do you develop a station that invites people to travel by public transport? Manuela Triggianese, architect and assistant professor in Complex Projects, is investigating on how to design train and metro stations to be more attractive, people-centred and future-proof. In the Walk-In project she is looking together with students, the creative industry, public transport companies and authorities at how they can set up the design process as efficiently, integrated and collaborative as possible.

One station may have beautiful historic features, a wealth of facilities and a bustling green station square, while another station may be a dull concrete affair. The latter type of station does not exactly invite people to travel by public transport, to pass through or to stay there. And that needs to change, believes Manuela Triggianese. “Public transport plays an important role in the urban transition to sustainable development. More and more towns and cities are pushing out polluting cars to their periphery and public transport stations are important hubs for sustainable choices and shared mobility. Stations belong to the environment, which needs to become healthier, more liveable and inclusive. So these buildings need to be properly integrated in their surroundings.”

Activating design and collaboration

One of the problems is that a lot of stations don’t currently have the facilities required, says Triggianese. “For example, there is not enough space to park bicycles or to wait for your train in a comfortable way. There are also hardly any shops and no attention has been paid to liveability around. If you want more people to take the train or metro, then you must make a station area accessible and attractive. As an architect, I am trying to contribute towards that, by helping to think about both the things that need to be taken into account in a design and the organisation of collaboration with the parties concerned. I consider ‘design’ as an active tool for addressing this challenge.”

Stations in the suburbs

For a long time, research into public transport stations focused mainly on major stations in city centres, while it is the stations in the suburbs that are becoming increasingly important, says Triggianese. “Urban expansion primarily has taken place outside the centre. The urban densification is now happening more and more at and around public transport stations. That means not only that more and more people use public transport there but also that there are more and more needs that must be taken into account. Instead of just stations where you get on or change trains, suburban stations are increasingly becoming destinations in themselves with a multifunctional character.” 

Responding to people needs

However, before starting to design a multifunctional station and its surroundings, you first have to know what the needs of future users and other stakeholders are, says Triggianese. “You need to map out what an optimum journey would look like for people and what facilities would be required for that journey such as parking for bicycles, shops, a pharmacy, parcel drop-off and collection points or even a day-care facility. You must also ensure that the station and platforms are easily accessible and that people feel safe there. That is a real challenge, especially in places where you find large crowds, lack of space for densification and huge car parking with bad quality.”

Linking academic knowledge with professional practice

Triggianese is currently leading the Walk-In project funded by NWO. In this project, she works together with students, the creative industry, public transport companies and authorities on how they can jointly exploit the opportunities for a sustainable transition as efficiently as possible. Triggianese: “The idea behind this project is that we implement co-creation as much as possible in both the research and the design process. It is important to do that, especially for complex urban development tasks such as the construction or renovation of a station and its surroundings. Such tasks involve a lot of different parties and interests. If you have a clear picture of this early on, you probably know where the sticking points lie and you can look for solutions together.”


Students involvement 

The year-long research project is focusing on three stations in Rotterdam-South: the Rotterdam Zuid train station and the Slinge and Zuidplein metro stations. This part of the city was not a completely random choice, explains Triggianese. “Over the next few years, around 50,000 new homes are to be built in Rotterdam. A lot of the current public transport stations located there are still places that are not particularly inviting. Students from TU Delft studied the locations and put together a number of inspiring visions for the future with opportunities based on their findings. These were then presented during workshops, discussed with the partners concerned and published with TU Delft Open .” 

Design Toolkit

The project should ultimately lead to the development of a toolkit with the input from the design partners of Walk-In. Triggianese: “In that toolkit, we will outline a variety of general guidelines on how to create an integral design for a station and its surroundings. What do residents and public transport users consider important? How should you treat the available space? How do you combine functions? Therefore it’s not about the exact design but what you need to take into account and how you organise collaboration. The toolkit should launch the debate as it were, enabling the parties to create a visual design together. Based on this, policy makers could make an informed choice.”

Three drivers in a single project

For Triggianese, the best thing about the Walk-In project is that it brings together three of her drivers as a researcher: integrated approach of design, better collaboration and contributing to the sustainable transition. “Naturally, my primary interest as an architect is the design. Without good coordination at the front end, there is a good chance of you incurring unnecessarily high costs, of running into problems later on or of a project not getting off the ground at all. That is why collaboration or co-creation is key in Walk-In. And ultimately, all this should of course lead to more attractive public transport, as a clean alternative to polluting forms of mobility.”  

Walk-In (Widening sustAinable mobiLity networK: Impact on Nodes) is one of the many projects that Manuela Triggianese is (or has been) leading. Other projects relating to stations in the city are the ‘City of Innovations’ (see book series), ‘The role of stations in future metropolitan areas’ and ‘Stations of the Future’, a collaboration between TU Delft, AMS Institute, the Dutch Embassy and the University of Gustave Eiffel in Paris.