How to design a great station?\

Each year all our staff are invited to go on a research trip; themed to a sector or service we offer. In 2015 one group visited Budapest to explore infrastructure.

Open Design Competition

Budapest has three pre-existing metro lines, the first originally dating form the 1890s. Subsequent upgrades have been engineer-designed, with little involvement from architects; creating sterile and unimaginative stations. The city’s requirement for the new 10-station metro line, was seen as an opportunity to showcase Budapest’s position as a 21st Century city - through its design led approach to infrastructure.

We are used to the system of corporate frameworks, rigorous PQQs and a reliance on previous experience. In the case of Metro Line 4, an open competition was held – open to all. In 2003 architects were asked to produce a contemporary design; contrary to the traditional public architecture of Budapest.

Colour and Lighting

It is well known that the use of bright colours can create happier and safer environments. Metro systems throughout the world have historically been dark, utilitarian spaces that have often left the user feeling unsafe. This is partly due to their subterranean and unmanned nature, but also due to the lack of consideration in design; often due to budget, maintenance and security concerns.

The immediate impression when entering any of the Metro Line 4 stations is the striking use of colour and light. While this is an over-arching theme to the new line - each of the five winning Architectural studios designed two different stations. This gave each pair distinct characteristics and style. The bright, patterned and colourful platforms deliberately creates playful, welcoming spaces.

Don't Shy Away from the Site

The original engineer led designs (from the 70s) called for unrelenting structural elements through all the stations. The approach of an open architectural competition allowed for these designs to be creatively appraised. Working hand in hand with the engineers throughout the design process, meant that each locations’ natural restrictions could be integrated into the stations’ aesthetic.

Most notably this can be seen at Stations Gellért and Fovám. Both designed by Spora architect’s, these two stations sit either side of the Danube. The public escalators descend through the criss-cross of heavy beams, celebrating the vast excavation and pressures of the adjacent river as soon as you enter.

Varied Materials

Alongside the re-invigoration of typical underground language; such as mosaic tiling, the client also encouraged the installation of inventive and unprecedented materials.

Intricate fabrics were embedded into bespoke platform furniture, while well-versed materials such as glass were developed to create feature elements to the stations. The architects and their families were even involved in the manufacture of unique sand-cast glass panels.

Materials, signage and furniture were all designed by the individual design teams with no stylistic regulations imposed upon them by the client.

Collaboration from Day One

From our discussions with the design team, it became apparent that collaboration was key to the success of the project. While the very small Studio Palatium won the original design competition; at the suggestion of the organisers they enrolled the help of four other local offices (similarly sized runners up) to collectively, and collaboratively design and deliver the 10 new stations.

These five teams worked closely with the engineering teams from the outset. This allowed the station’s structural designs to be adapted, refined and fully integrated, rather than designed around at later stages of work.

The architects were also encouraged by the client to freely work with local artists, fabric and lighting designers. These disciplines aided design of station signage, platform furniture and patterned surfaces. The feature elements allow the public to appreciate the bespoke design at a human scale, distilling the epic proportions down to everyday levels.

Ignore the Politics

Metro line 4 has been in development since the 1970s, with political trepidation putting the project on hold until 2003. Construction began in 2006 and the full line opened in March 2014; covering 7.34km and costing €1.5 Billion. Despite lengthy bureaucratic delays and budgeting concerns, the public have commended Metro Line 4 for its playful and contemporary design - with the stations winning several global design awards. This universally positive response has led to development of a further extension to Line 4, and proposals for a new Line 5 in Budapest.

From the inventive use of colour, lighting and patterned mosaics, to the creative implementation of structural elements, each station is a product of its separate designer from street level down to platform. The City’s insistence on an open, designer led competition has created fun and contemporary stations that complement the city’s historical backdrop.

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