Stop to Shop (and More)
Perhaps the biggest recent trend in transit hub design has been increased emphasis
on retail and, in particular, local businesses. While airports can take advantage of
early passenger arrival times to prompt travelers toward dining and shopping, big-city
railroad hubs like Toronto’s Union Station, Canada’s busiest rail hub, are finding their
customers increasingly are not just travelers, but people living nearby.
“There are dozens of new condo towers springing up in Union Station’s backyard.
The downtown core of the city is becoming a place to live,” explains Alexander
Josephson, a partner with Toronto firm PARTISANS, which designed the interiors
for a new $81 million excavation underneath the seven-acre Union Station site as part
of a broader $800 million renovation. “From a design perspective, it’s becoming
a destination, not just a pass-through,” he adds.
The new 165,000-square-foot space features an emphasis on food vendors, including
dining for travelers, as well as a market with a butcher shop and fishmonger geared
toward local residents. “It’s an attempt to create a cultural platform with independent
retail,” Josephson says, “which becomes a kind of portrait of the city.”
But PARTISANS and its collaborators for Union Station, which include NORR
Architects and Zeidler Partnership Architects (recently rebranded as Zeidler), had
to make the new subterranean space inviting. Instead of a drop ceiling, the team
created a series of curvaceous ceiling modules that integrate lighting, speakers,
sprinklers, and HVAC. “You get taller, more open ceilings without the banality
of a drywall ceiling,” PARTISANS Partner Pooya Baktash explains.
At Toronto’s Union Station, the designers were working on a historic landmark:
The circa-1927 Beaux Arts-style structure was designed by Ross and Macdonald,
one of Canada’s most acclaimed architecture firms of the early 20th century. Its
colonnaded loggia facing Front Street is comprised of 22 massive Roman columns,
which communicate the station’s importance as a cornerstone of society and the
grandness of train travel.
Yet, such opulent transit-hub architecture is not merely a relic of the past. Today,
new landmarks, such as the World Trade Center Transportation Hub in lower
Manhattan, designed by architect Santiago Calatrava and better known as the
Oculus, can rival even the most enduring landmarks in a city already full of them.
Though controversial given its nearly $4 billion price tag, the building is an uplifting
counterpoint to the sobering National September 11 Memorial & Museum across
the street. Beneath its soaring skylight and amidst its opulent white marble
surfaces, the Oculus allows everyday commuters to “have an architectural
experience there that may renew your faith in the potential of the public realm in
New York,” architecture critic Paul Goldberger has written.
“From a design perspective,
[Toronto’s Union Station] is
becoming a destination, not just
—ALEXANDER JOSEPHSON, PARTISANS
Showcasing the diversity
and best of the spirit of
Toronto, the new spaces
at Union Station include
an eclectic mix of retail,
events, and more.
(Image: PAR TISANS)
Making Connections – By Brian Libby