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The right side of the tracks \

From the local train station bringing people together twice a day, to the landmark viaduct marching across the valley, pieces of infrastructure often play the role of familiar characters within a community, embedded in its collective memory.

Conversely, infrastructure can also be seen as a barrier, which isolates areas perceived as the ‘wrong side of the tracks’ and segregates communities that might only sit minutes apart as the crow flies, yet feel worlds apart. On the wrong side, local business flounders, civic confidence wanes and as a result investment opportunities are few and far between.

Hawkins\Brown believes that infrastructure should always connect communities, bringing opportunities, not obstacles. This has led us to a design approach that is as much about communication and joined up thinking as it is about putting ink to paper.

At East Croydon Station, we were part of a team working closely with Network Rail and Croydon Council to develop a masterplan for the area in collaboration with developers. One of the key moves was to combine a public pedestrian link between east and west with a new bridge that will relieve the congestion of ever-increasing passenger demand at the station – the third busiest passenger interchange on the national rail network. Our collaborative attitude meant that the station improvements were not considered in isolation, but as an essential step in the wider transformation of East Croydon’s buildings and public realm.

By designing the right infrastructure in place first, we were able to unlock development sites to the east and west of East Croydon station, therefore removing any perceived ‘wrong side’. The bridge has become the catalyst for commercial development, rather than the other way round. This is important because rather than simply solving current problems, coordinating with a wider network of stakeholders has informed a design solution that can act as a stepping stone towards a more ambitious, open-minded vision. This is just as relevant whether designing a brand new interchange or upgrading and improving an existing transport hub.

However big or small the project, the role of the architect in designing infrastructure is crucial in putting people first; designing for how people interact and move in different situations, how they live and travel on a daily basis. By connecting the dots and knowing how to meaningfully engage all those with a stake in an area, it’s possible to capture a host of different opportunities that in turn maximise potential for the rail client, local community and developers alike.

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