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On-demand webinar: Transport, infrastructure & warehouse architecture

Ruth Slavid

On 20 October 2020 RIBAJ and PiP were joined by a group of experts and architects to discuss innovative infrastructure projects that are improving the lives of communities

If you missed it, catch up with video here. Speakers at the event were:

Frank Anatole (principle architect, Network Rail). How architectural innovation is a key component in the delivery of Network Rail’s programme of strategic works.

Marko Neskovic (partner, Hawkins/Brown). How four transport projects have brought more than just transport links to different areas of London.

Craig Wright (technical sales director, Movetech UK). How vehicle turntables have revolutionised site space usage.

Max Fawcett (associate principal, Grimshaw). The plans for the HS2 Curzon Street Station in Birmingham.

Jonathan Lowy (operational marketing manager, VMZinc). The historic link between zinc and transport infrastructure.

Tariq Khan (associate, Stephen George + Partners). A case study on Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal.

It can be too easy to see the buildings in a city as the main elements and ignore the infrastructure, whereas in fact it has a major impact. This was demonstrated by Marko Neskovic, partner at Hawkins/Brown, when he talked at the latest PiP seminar about proposals for Clapham Junction in south London.

This speculative design, developed with Mott MacDonald and Laing O’Rourke, looked both at ways to increase the capacity of the station and to improve the routes from one side of the railway to the other. At present, it is a near insuperable barrier, with only paid routes through the station. The alternatives are a long walk around or a shorter walk through a threatening tunnel.

The new proposal rearranges the platforms below ground, creating more space. It bridges across with development, creates new routes and a green linear park. In this way the enhanced capacity also knits a divided community together.

Re-establishing links is also one of the virtues of the HS2 Curzon Street Station in Birmingham that Grimshaw has designed. While the form of the station is impressive - its section is on a par with St Pancras - it is the social impact that will probably be greatest. ‘It will expand Birmingham city centre by 0.5km,’ said Max Fawcett, associate principal with Grimshaw. There are new public spaces around and beneath the building  and an improved setting for the historic original station dating from 1838, which served the UK's first inter-city passenter railway.

The new public square beneath the viaduct helps to link places together. The station itself, with platforms that are half a kilometre long, is based on the principle, said Fawcett, that ‘the engineering is the architecture. We wanted to create a legible, clear design so that people would be able to understand how it works.’ The marriage of architecture and engineering also responds to Birmingham's industrial heritage - something that was important to local people.

Legible clear design was a concern of British Rail, which had some extraordinary and pervasive branding. Frank Anatole, principal architect with successor body Network Rail, explained that it is again trying to place design at the forefront.

He recalled some of the important designs of the past where ‘external designers were brought in to soften the hard edges’ and ‘brought design innovation to the railways’. Now, he says, ‘we are trying to rekindle that support.’ Network Rail’s new mantra ‘putting passengers first,’ helps, Anatole said, but one should not underestimate the scale of the challenge. The organisation is primarily an engineering one, with many more track engineers than architects – in fact architects make up less than 0.1% of the workforce.

But the organisation is determined to change and Anatole outlined a number of initiatives. These included the appointment of a new design advice panel and running design competitions with the RIBA. These had resulted in a footbridge design by Danish practice Gottlieb Paludan Architects with Czech practice Strasky, Husty and Partners. Called The Framing Bridge, it is a simple, elegant design, both contemporary and timeless.

A competition with the London Festival of Architecture for bench designs resulted in several winners, with the scheme by Atelier La Juntana being rolled out in a number of London termini.

Anatole did not specifically discuss station roofs. Jonathan Lowy, operational marketing manager of VMZinc, made up for this by showing a wide array of zinc roofs in the UK and overseas. These were roofs on railway stations, on bus interchanges and on toll booths. Some of the zinc was coloured. All of it was handsome and sustainable – this is a material that is not only entirely recyclable, but usually is recycled.

Presentations from the remaining two speakers were eye-openers. Craig Wright, technical sales director of Movetech UK, explained the role of vehicle turntables. These are often specified to save space, for instance in the entrances to supermarket loading bays, but there is also, Wright explained, an important health and safety function. By largely removing the need for reversing, the risk of accidents is reduced. In addition, he showed the measures that are taken to ensure that nobody is able to be trapped in a confined space between a wall and the ‘circle of sweep’.

Tariq Khan, associate with Stephen George + Partners, described the work and careful thinking that went into the masterplanning and design of the third phase of Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal (DIRFT). This facility, set between the M1, the A5 and the West Coast Main Line is staggering in its scale and its potential to reduce road pollution. Khan talked about logistics, about the way that containers are transferred, about the size and operation of warehouses. This is a kind of architecture that few really consider, but is fascinating and, because it deals with the goods that we all buy, it affects all our lives.

Next time you visit a supermarket, it is worth thinking about the design of DIRFT as well as the turntable that may well exist in its yard.

See the delegate pack here [PDF] 

This event was sponsored by VMZinc and Movetech UK

Ruth Slavid is an architectural writer, editor and consultant.