Transit Architecture: The Change has to be Drastic

Churchgate railway station in Mumbai

It’s no secret that the tremendous growth that some Indian cities are seeing is largely contributed by their satellite centres. Places that were separate cities, towns or even villages not that long ago, but are now part of large bustling and demanding metropolitan areas. All this growth has spurred the need of better mass transit of populations to and from city centres or within the suburbs. The architecture of transit services thus comes centre-stage and Transit Oriented Development (TOD).

This focus is also rooted in the preferences of today’s citizens. Health, convenience and diversification of access points, amenities and services are becoming equally relevant as the more traditional challenges of handling continuous volumes and safety and security. Another matter regaining prominence recently is aesthetics as well as a sense of awe that transit stations generate amongst commuters. And for good reason- not only is it important for people to find and navigate them easily but it highlights the importance transit architecture has in addressing urban challenges such as pollution, congestion, economic inequality and lack of convenient travel.

Today architects working on design of these structures are focusing on making sure access is available to a broader base of commuters. Specifically transit services within TODs are ensuring that transit stations are no longer isolated but form part of a dense mix or utilisation of public recreation, office, retail and residential space.

Roles may have changed, but architecture has had, and continues to have, a significant role in facilitating the rapid growth and evolution of transit. And it has always gone past just functionality. In the past, transit architecture has created monuments to governmental power and human achievement. New York City’s Pennsylvania Station built in 1910 was a monument to American economic success. It occupied four full city blocks at three levels and was designed as the new main point of entry into New York. But grand and beautiful as they may have been, not all such expensive and inflexible architectural projects have stood the test of time.

Today’s stations have to be built to account for rapidly changing transit patterns and technology. For instance, Rotterdam Central station has been redeveloped to represent its important role not only within the city, but also as part of the European train network. The station already accommodates 150-200k passengers per day and has been designed to cater for up to twice that volume by 2025.


It is important to have demography, lifestyle and needs of all passengers and users in mind while designing and building transit centres, something that our various local transit projects may not have necessarily accounted for in recent years. The Dhaula Kuan intersection in Delhi with its myriad array of flyovers and crossings is a case in point. After the flyovers were constructed the authorities realised there was absolutely nothing that was provided for pedestrians who might want to go across to the different sides of the intersection.

The truth is that too often pedestrian bridges or underpasses, and bus or taxi or autorickshaw terminals are treated as afterthoughts. This isn’t just poor planning in isolated cases, it also shows a lack of understanding of the importance of city-level public transit architecture in the time to come. It is important to think of any transit architecture not just in terms of function, but in terms of people. A careful look at who uses or passes through that architecture, reason of use and time of use, will lead to the realisation, as experts aver, that only about 40% people on any transit site are actually passengers.


The Civil Aviation Ministry’s Regional Connectivity Scheme “UDAN’ is geared to provide more air connectivity to even the Tier 3 towns in the country. The airports coming up in these places need to be future proof architectrually and design wise so as to blend into the destination’s future transport requirements. Airports are now vital for any urban centre to take off and achieve growth. Airport designs have to bear in mind proximity to highways, a safe yet reasonable distance from city hubs and ground transport links and stations. Aesthetics and functionality both play an important role in airport design. Practical considerations around segregation of departures and arrivals, visitors and baggage and the time spent in various parts of the building are required.

Design strategies in maintaining comfortable temperatures and maximising natural lighting are key. In fact, lighting and energy saving is increasingly a crucial factor as airport designers and architects jostle with each other at being the most environmentconscious. Chennai airport claims it is the world’s first truly sustainable green airport, with plenty of natural lighting and gardens visible across the terminals including a vertical garden, as well as restoration of the native landscape, passive energy conservation strategies, material selection, onsite storm water detention, on site waste water treatment and dispersal systems. Kochi airport proclaims its the world’s only airport tht runs solely on solar power.


Aesthetic challenges in airports include merging the local and heritage elements with global and contemporary sensibilities. The airport at Goa has vibrant interiors with wall hangings and sculptures representing the local flavour with a bold, sleek structural form providing a modern, iconic appeal. The Rocky Mountainsinspired Mountainsinspired Denver International Airport became a landmark almost twenty years ago as it successfully blended a modern design with the “sense” of the place.

Across the world airports are including architectual and interior design structural innovations that seemed almost fairy-tale like in the not too distant past. Self-cleaning glass and carpets and selfrepairing materials are being developed and used. The west terminal at Los Angeles International Airport has large digital screens that passengers can interact with using their mobile phones. Automated interaction between the airport and the passengers will become the norm in the near future.


Here in India, on the ground level and specifically thinking of rail transport, there is a lot of activity and ambition in the projects being undertaken across the country to make transit stations’ design more efficient.

State governments are also waking up to the necessity of better transit hubs. Byappanahalli station in Bengaluru is set to receive airport-like facilities like separate arrival and departure terminals, conveyor belts and executive lounges. Along with many other convenience and entertainment facilities the modern day traveller expects from a world-class transit terminal. The station will be an inter-model transit hub with both the Metro station and BMTC bus stand very close by, and a consideration towards smoother last-mile connectivity.

The government has work up to the need to improve rail stations, both architecturally and service wise. The newly created Rail Land Development Authority (RLDA) and national in conjunction with National Building Construction Corporation (NBCC) have come togther to manage and create these hubs. The government set a 2020 deadline to redevelop 10 railway stations into world classsmart facilities with airport-like amenities at a cost of Rs 5,000 crore. The redevelopment of stations will be carried out under a self-financing model through land monetisation .The stations selected for the project are Delhi Sarai Rohilla, Lucknow, Gomti Nagar, Kota, Tirupati, Nellore, Ernakulam, Puducherry, Madgaon and Thane.


Similarly, most bus terminals in India are in dire (sometimes desparate) need of a better design and empathetic functionality that is geared towards users. Considerations include function, size, bay type requirements, parking and other inter-transit-model intersections, maintenance facilities and amenities.

Inspiration can be drawn from the Transbay transit centre in San Francisco which provides the crossing of all transit systems above and below ground and contribute to the city’s green public space and is gaining widespread recognition as one of the foremost transit architecture innovations in the world.


Be it a small bus shelter, a large train station, or a global air or sea hub, it is safe to say that opportunity for innovation in transit architecture is at its peak. We have to break the shackles of the past and remove any obstacles that limit the ambitions in building the best transit solutions for the people in terms of functionality, beauty, sustainability and scalability. And unless technology and innovation is harnessed and applied at each strata of transit infrastructure development, there is every risk that we could miss the boat in terms of achieving our desired scale of growth.

The ISBT at Delhi and also the one at Chandigarh are examples of how things can change. The inclusion of the country’s top talent in architecture and design is the key to creating and developing transit architecture in india. That way the countrys transit hubs can at least be truly efficient, functional and easy on the eye, if not immediately world class. A few showpiece airports, bus terminals and rail stations will not do at all.

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