Architecture

Perth Transport Authority Underground Information Centre

December 8, 2010

Perth’s first underground railway station illustrates the value of a design-led approach to infrastructural delivery.

At the northwestern corner of Perth’s Murray Street pedestrian mall is the entrance to the city’s first, and recently commissioned, underground railway station. Under construction above and around the station’s entry is 140 William Street, the city’s most promising commercial tower since Harry Seidler’s design for QV1.

The station’s subterranean platform is linked to the mall via a bank of steeply inclined escalators and stairs, the up and down journeys running either side of the central passenger lift.

Cocooned snugly above the escalators and secured to the underbelly of the tower is a pair of pod-shells designed by iredale pedersen hook architects (IPH) for PTA, the city’s public transport authority.

The two small, brightly coloured, cocoon-like objects are identical in form. Two PTA employees who help customers with information on the rail and bus services staff one of the pods. IPH’s commission included the interior design of this ‘InfoPod’, while its companion pod will be leased as a retail tenancy.

For the cocoon shells, IPH has returned to the design aesthetic and streamlined form that it successfully pursued in its Reynolds Residence addition. Not unlike a caravan or a railway carriage, each cocoon’s apparently continuous casing wraps tightly around a clearly defined single cell of space, its open end sealed with a sheet of clear glass to help transport users easily see into the pods and, therefore, see where they can find assistance and route information.

In the late 1980s, graphic designer Ray Leeves received a routine commission for signage from TransPerth, which, with tremendous commitment, he worked to evolve into a corporate identity. TransPerth was then a new entity, formed to re-invent Perth’s metropolitan public transport network of trains and buses into a coordinated and identifiable public facility. To correctly implement Leeves’ fully integrated signage system, as detailed in the design manual, required levels of sophistication and commitment to design that were at that time new to Perth. Yet, despite organisational and personnel changes within TransPerth, much of Ray Leeves’ design and identity have remained essentially the same, and the crisp lines and formal clarity of the network’s graphic communication system, along with its corporate colours of green, white and silver-grey, have been readily adopted by IPH in this project. The external casings of the pods are finished in the bold corporate green, leaving the interiors as predominantly bright white.

Subsequent developments of Perth’s public transport network have resulted in a zoning approach to ticketing costs for each of the lines. As is now probably a universal solution to the diagramming of integrated public transport networks, the zones and routes are colour-coded. IPH has deliberately employed these five network colours as visually bold bands that give the interior a distinctive and attractive aesthetic appeal, based on the principles of functional graphics.

IPH’s design solution for these pods sits at the intersection of industrial-product design, graphic design and architecture – where the space of architecture is ordered around visual communication, where the tectonics of building take on the appearance of a mass produced vacuum formed envelope that conceals complex inner workings, and where the finished product has a stylish, sleek, light-weight and comforting appearance. The over-arching intent is to achieve a smooth interface between individual and system. The small scale of this public facility has afforded the architects the opportunity to work with Dulux’s Enviro2 Acrylic Paints and Staron, an acrylic resin material that has been carved, fused and molded to form an interior that is a seamless, liquid-smooth matrix. IPH has had fun merging the ceiling with the walls and extruding the central information counter, which morphs into the wall-mounted display pockets.

It is most refreshing to see PTA, widely held to be Perth’s most difficult public bureaucracy with which to work, acknowledging the role architecture might play in delivering a popular and efficient public transport network in this car-dependent city. The comprehensiveness of IPH’s approach demonstrates design’s potential to assist organisations better realise and manage their strategic and operational agendas. One hopes that PTA continues to engage creative practitioners to aid their enterprise.

To achieve the best results from a mutually supportive and respectful relationship between engineers, architects, designers and the construction industry requires patience and the desire to do so. Clearly, the pod project was not an easy site in which to work. Ensuring uninhibited operations of the platform and rail infrastructure while maintaining public safety, contending with the construction activities of a large tower, negotiating access to the central city location, being embroiled in the politics and power plays that affect a complicated city development, and maintaining enthusiasm and commitment to design innovation amounts to a tremendous effort for two small green and white pods. Well-conceived and well-executed architecture is an extremely difficult thing to achieve. It requires talent, insight and agreement between several parties, a shared dedication to excellence and a willingness to overcome differences for the benefit of the project. Close inspection of IPH’s project reveals the experience with pre-fabrication and site assembly in response to site conditions. There are some signs of battles fought, with a few scars evident at the physical junctions between the cocoons and their host structure. Notwithstanding the slight glitches, the deployment of talent and intent has delivered a major victory for a relatively minor commission.

It is now up to PTA to maintain the premises and to respect the design intent. IPH have expended considerable effort to deliver the client an integrated design and in doing so, introduced the organisation to a design-led approach that could be applied to other network structures and modes of information distribution, plus an aesthetic standard applicable to a contemporary multi-modal urban transport system. And like the earlier corporate identity, IPH’s contribution to PTA’s public image and customer services has the capacity to become a familiar and enduring resource for this large and important organisation.

Geoff Warn is a partner of Donaldson + Warn Architects and Professor of Architecture at Curtin University.

  • Joan Hogan 9581 4506 June 1st, 2011 7:39 am

    Please contact me regarding a replacement bus shelter in my district Mandurah. Regards


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