Viaduct Love in Berlin

The current generation of urban designers may like to complain about NIMBYs, but urban designers and NIMBYs can be counted on to agree on one thing:  Elevated transportation infrastructure is a bad thing in an urban setting.  Urban design today focuses on activating the ground plane and maintaining its visual connection to the sky.  Even pedestrian bridges are out of fashion, while a new continuous elevated structure would be hard sell in the urban core of almost any major city.  The Seattle Monorail Project (1996-2005) proposed a very thin elevated structure, but even this was a flashpoint of controversy when it got close to existing buildings.

It may be true that we don’t know how to build viaducts anymore and that the freeway era has traumatized a whole generation into reacting badly to absolutely anything new up in the air.  And I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, but …

But before we decide for sure, take a walk with me along Berlin’s Stadtbahn.

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Berlin’s New Micro-Subway: A Short Architectural Tour


Earlier this year, Berlin’s U-Bahn opened its newest segment of subway, a 1.1 mile three-station line connecting the main rail station to the Brandenburg Gate.  It’s temporarily called the U55, but it will ultimately become part of the expanded U5 (see network map here).  From the Gate, the line will continue east under Unter den Linden, Berlin’s main processional boulevard, to Alexanderplatz, the former East Berlin downtown and one of Berlin’s most important hubs.  (From there it will continue to the eastern suburbs as the U5 that already exists.)  This is such an important segment for Berlin, both practically and symbolically, that it´s remarkable it´s only now being built.  (The Transport Politic reviewed the political history here.)

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Vienna’s Gentle Glass Boxes

Subway entrances are always a great challenge opportunity for transit architecture.  Should you present a consistent systemwide look or blend into the surrounding urban texture?   (The same debate happens about lots of other transit infrastructure too, right down to the bus stop sign.)

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Vienna and the “Style of Youth”

One of the joys of Vienna’s transit system is that  some key pieces of it were built in 1898, mostly designed by Otto Wagner.  It was the era of Art Nouveau (called Jugendstil in Vienna) which later grew into full-blown Deco.  A few examples are over the top, such as the Karlsplatz station house:

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Learning, Again, From Las Vegas

Tired of arguing about streetcars?  Let’s take a break and talk about something we’re more likely to agree on — Las Vegas!

While the city plays a crucial role in American culture as a test-site for exotic street names, I suspect we’d mostly agree that it’s not going to be a leader in sustainable urban form anytime soon. While the grid pattern of the city has some advantages (more on grids soon), Las Vegas has a particularly bad habit of building blocks of apartments in places where efficient transit will never be able to serve them and where basic commercial needs are still too far to walk. Thus achieving all of density’s disadvantages and none of its benefits.

But there are surprises.  I just completed my annual trip to Las Vegas, to see family there, and thought I’d update this 2007 item from my personal blog about this capital of churn:

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Muscular Whimsy: Southern Cross Station, Melbourne


Last time I was in Melbourne, my hotel room looked out on a sea of churning metallic waves.  Forty years ago they would have been called psychedelic.
The waves are the roof of  Southern Cross Station.  It’s one of five stations on Melbourne’s City Loop, the hub of the city’s extensive electrified urban rail network.  It’s also the Melbourne terminal for the remarkably extensive V-Line system, a network of intercity trains linking Melbourne to the smaller cities all over the surrounding State of Victoria.  I usually arrive here on a bus from the airport, which comes into an adjacent bus terminal.  Southern Cross thus serves as part of the arrival experience at all scales, from daily commutes to flights from overseas.

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Crowdsourcing Bus Stop Design

Bus_Stop_Final1 Bus stops can be pretty basic, or pretty elaborate.  Aaron Antrim points me to a Utah-based project, Next Stop Design, that collects ideas for bus stop design from the public, then allows users to rate them.  Such a project on a large enough scale could start to generate some “wisdom of crowds” about what kinds of bus stops people like.  (This currently leading design, a “covered-wagon” theme for Utah, is by “hopkimp,” details here.) Continue Reading →