by Almas SadiqueApr 28, 2023
Re-Imagining Railway Stations: an international competition held by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and Network Rail has announced Edinburgh-based studio 7N architects as its winner. The competition brief invited architects, engineers, and designers worldwide to re-envision the design of Britain's railway stations for the future and present innovative design solutions for small and medium-sized train stations that would improve the transit experiences of millions of users across the country's vast network of railways. This call was heeded by over 200 entries spread across 34 different countries from various parts of the globe.
The competition took place over two phases, the first of which began in July 2020. Five entrants chosen from this stage were invited to refine their proposals for final consideration. Selection criteria encouraged forward-thinking measures and the involvement of smaller organisations while adhering to the regulated system of the UK's rail environment. The panel of appraisers comprised numerous professionals from fields associated with built environment design.
Head of Buildings and Architecture at Network Rail, Anthony Dewar, reflected on the announcement, stating in an official press release: “This competition offered a unique opportunity to reimagine what a railway station can be in the 21st century, creating an environment that better serves the passengers and communities who rely on the British railway network and leave a lasting legacy on station design”. He added, "I would like to congratulate 7N Architects on their winning entry and I look forward to seeing how they will bring their design to life”.
Small and medium-sized railway stations in rural and suburban settings around Britain currently number over 2,000 - constituting a significant majority of all such facilities within the country's borders. The contestants were asked to submit unified approaches that would tackle the challenge placed before them through adaptive design interventions that increased the efficiency of redesigning and operating existing stations. Simultaneously, they also had to provide models for new facilities to be built in regions without these services at the present time.
Regarding 7N Architects' winning entry, Alan Jones, RIBA President, said, “This is a highly innovative, compelling, and forward-thinking solution that will have a hugely positive impact on future station design. Congratulations to 7N Architects – I am excited to see the scheme develop”.
In the eyes of the Evaluation Panel, the Scottish architecture studio gained an edge over other candidates due to their entry having accounted for the needs of both railway passengers and local communities at large. According to them, 7N Architects stripped down a complex problem with innumerable variables and contingencies, to its essential facets, with a design model that achieved a desirable balance between national and regional identities.
Under their scheme, there was a sharp distinction in how trackside elements were to craft a unified national architectural language, while landside features would blend into their contexts. They accomplished this through an ingenious, modular station planning system that possessed the capacity to adapt and complement Britain's diverse range of urban and rural landscapes. Furthermore, the entry's open, freely flexible model avoided excess and extravagance. Instead, it required very few integrated parts to improve user experiences while incorporating sustainable design elements.
Lucy Musgrave OBE, founding director of Publica, and a member of the panel of judges mentioned, "7N’s winning proposal showed a confident expression and understanding of the opportunity to celebrate our local identities, the specificity and integration with our urban and rural landscapes, and the strength of our national identity through our railway infrastructure”.
The entry proposed a redesigned, standardised station frontage focused on a large, visually dominant clock tower, to serve as a local landmark, inculcating a sense of civic purpose. Shaded canopies around the structure would provide shelter and turn the area in its vicinity into a natural meeting point for socialising. Further ahead, extensive, refined platform canopies beyond the entrance portal, create a tranquil and convenient waiting area for passengers.
UK Minister of State for Transport, Chris Heaton-Harris, said: “7N Architects’ innovative concept puts passengers right at the heart of its design, from the sweeping canopies providing shelter from the elements and generating power, to the station’s frontage serving as a local landmark. Harnessing creative and forward-thinking ideas in competitions like this will be a game-changer when it comes to designing stations of the future that deliver a first-class experience for all passengers. I look forward to seeing this become a reality”.
7N Architects' entry also included design measures that were in line with Network Rail's goals of achieving carbon neutrality by the year 2050. These included provisions for solar power generation through translucent photovoltaic panels installed on the roofs of the platform canopies. While generating most of the energy required for the station's functioning, they will also provide refuge from the rain, snow, and sun.
Musgrave further added: “This competition has clearly set out the importance of holistic and integral design quality when it comes to creating successful infrastructure. Network Rail’s leadership has encouraged all involved to consider how society is changing and how we can address the climate emergency and the evolving civic role of our infrastructure”.
In the next phase, 7N Architects will work in conjunction with representatives from Network Rail to further develop their concept into a formalised proposal, taking into consideration the concerns of construction methodology and addressing technical requirements.