Design for public transport: ‘The train is not designed for the passenger’

The architectural firm Mecanoo designs public transport. The layout of NS trains, RET metros but also entire stations. There is still much to gain in terms of experience for public transport, says Arne Lijbers, architect at Mecanoo. “A lot of people are sitting on the train doing things that are not just related to moving from A to B. The train is simply not designed for that.”

One of the projects Mecanoo has worked on is Delft station. An excellent example of how the experience in public transport can be improved. Lijbers explains that Mecanoo works based on one method. With each design, they look at the user, the place and the purpose. “We saw a lot of opportunities in mobility there. It simply doesn’t happen enough there.”

It is precisely this message that Mecanoo is spreading at the event ‘Managing experience: a new view on the mobility transition’, organized by Goudappel. On Thursday 29 September, Lijbers will speak at this event about the need for experience with the design of public transport. Delft station is one of the examples where the experience is taken as a starting point.

“At Delft station, we first looked at the user based on our method. Many travelers at Delft station are connected to the university. In addition, the train was taken underground, which adds a challenge to the experience. It must be a cozy place inside, and it must be connected to the city. How do you ensure that you enter and immediately feel that you are in the old historic city of Delft?”

“That’s why we created a very large cavity, and the ceiling was very well lit. We have dramatically designed the ceiling and linked it to Delft by incorporating a historical element. In addition, it has a wavy roof, which gives a lot of expression. On the ground floor, we have designed glass all around the sides, so that the user is immediately connected to the city and its surroundings. You can find your way around, even if you come from the underground.”

“The station has become a sort of courtyard where you can sit, eat and meet. Especially because the ground floor is attached to the municipal office.”

The ceiling of Delft station is visible from the platform.

Library as an example

Many more stations can take the same steps as Delft. The experience can be improved. Lijbers sees an example in libraries. “We work very hard with the libraries to get the right experience. Many people who are looking for a book, want a cup of coffee, want to meet or work quietly, increasingly go to the library. Why not on a station? Why isn’t a station also a place to live and meet?”

Not only stations must be developed in this area, but also the so-called mobility hubs. “We have a larger housing task and have decided to let several people live in the same room. All those homes must be closed and those people must be transported on the same piece of land. This means that we must share mobility. You then have to create a kind of mini stations in the neighbourhood. I also think there are many opportunities there.”

“A positive experience is necessary for the use of public and shared transport. A bus stop is not only a link from your walk to the bus, but it is a place where you have to wait twenty minutes. So what activity do you do? If you think about it, the amount of wind, acoustics, temperature or a seat, for example, play a role. You think in a different way.”

Design for the interior of a RET metro.

train layout

Mecanoo has not only looked at stations. The interior of trains and subways can also be better adapted to the experience. “For the train interior, we looked exclusively at the user’s needs. On the train we went to look at the ideal environment for each activity. If you want to watch a series, you expect a different place than when you are traveling for a short time with several people. In addition, we expect many more on the train in the future. We also had to think about how we could increase capacity.”

Lijbers explains that Mecanoo has developed various modules. In the ideal picture, a train consists of different modules. A train where passengers sit for a long time looks very different from a train on a short distance.

“The idea is to offer diversity there. If you’re on the train for a long time, you’re just doing different things than if you’re on the train for ten minutes. If the train can run more often, offer fewer seats. It can also provide comfort and make a certain connection better. In that way, I think you have to see it from different perspectives.”

There is of course a tension field. “The train builder, of course, also looks at feasibility and maintenance. We have to ask ourselves if it is still a pleasant train to drive. We have to push that experience hard. This is actually what we do in all our projects at all levels of scale.”

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