Station building

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The station building of Flinders Street Station, Melbourne, Australia.
The station building of Torino Porta Nuova, 1861 Italy.

A station building, also known as a head house, is the main building of a passenger railway station. It is typically used principally to provide services to passengers.

A station building is not to be confused with the station itself. Whereas the latter is the whole facility giving passenger access to trains at a particular location (and includes the tracks, platforms, and often also, e.g., a subway, train shed, etc.), a station building is a specific well-defined element of the station of which it forms part.

Normally, a station building will be of adequate size for the type of service that is to be performed. It may range from a simple single-storey building with limited services to passengers to a large building with many indoor spaces providing many services. Some station buildings are of monumental proportions and styles. Both in the past and in recent times, especially when constructed for a modern high-speed rail network, a station building may even be a true masterpiece of architecture.

A typical railway station building will have a side entrance hall off the road or square where the station is located. Near the entrance will be a ticket counter, ticket machines, or both. There will also be one or more waiting rooms, often divided by class, and equipped with seats and luggage stands. From the waiting rooms, there will usually be direct access to rail passenger services. Medium to large size station buildings will often also have offices for rail staff involved in the management and operation of trains. Smaller or more rural stations will have no station building at all.

Station building architecture[edit]

Creation of the form[edit]

Warsaw, Vienna station (Polish: dworzec Wiedeński) (1846; H. Marconi): the first large Polish station.
Gdańsk Główny (1900; A. Rundel, P. Thomer): an example of train-shaped forms in harmony with local architectural traditions.
Tarnów railway station, a modernist building designed by the station architect E. Baudisch.
Przemyśl (1860).
Lviv Rail Terminal (1903; W. Sadłowski): the only fully mature large station complex built by Polish architects before 1914.
Białystok: economical construction of platforms - no roof, and without linking them to the reception hall.
Katowice (1972; W. Kłyszewski, J. Mokrzyński i E. Wierzbicki): one of the modernist (brutalist) station buildings in Europe.

Several decades were needed to find a formula for station building architecture that, like churches and town halls, would be easily recognizable in the urban space.

The first station buildings gave no special emphasis to their function, being essentially a variation on the house or office building. So, for example, it is difficult to identify the function of the station building in the original Manchester terminus of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, or in the two railway stations in Vienna shown below, although they have been given the characteristics of a public building.

Often the earliest station buildings were so modest that the main visible element of the station was the train shed (e.g., the first station in Mannheim).

The Vienna Station in Warsaw, Poland (1846), was one of the early, somewhat naive attempts to demonstrate its purpose. An example of a design technique soon to be dubbed architecture parlante, it was shaped so as to resemble a pair of locomotives. The building was, however, a "closed shop". Although there was space between the building and the surrounding streets, there was no architectural motif leading to any large air space penetration into the rooms inside.

Some early station building design teams tried to develop representative characteristics. Initially, this was by use of traditional architectural symbols, primarily related to the form of a "gate", such as a portico, a triumphal arch or Propylaea. But none of them (except perhaps the triumphal arch) have proved to be particularly suitable for expression of specific railway station functions.

One of the early ideas was to form the station building porticos to highlight the driveway and enlarge the scale of the dominant element of the facade. This motif is already present in the Newcastle Central station building (1850), then eagerly used in other stations in the UK. It became an even more prominent motif in the twentieth century, shaping the facade of the great railway station Milano Centrale.

In UK railway stations, where - thanks to constant movement of trains - the exchange of passengers takes place rapidly, the practice is not to have large station buildings. To some extent, the railway hotel buildings (or sometimes railway board offices) serve part of the station's function. These structures do not reveal, however, many features of "railway stations". The one feature that can be found in many of them, worldwide, is a canopy over the driveway, usually made of iron (e.g. part of the former London Victoria LBSCR station).

The first two images in the following gallery are examples of the use of arcades (shelters) fitted to through station buildings. In their case, the arcade not only accentuates the station's public function, but also the complex's expansive, symmetrical shape.

Among the attributes of the station, it is difficult to identify an element more appropriate than the station clock. It can be placed not only inside the station building, but also as a distinctive feature of the building's facade.

The modest (but smart) facade of Bari Centrale has an arcade and arcaded ground floor as elements determining its function, and a clock is placed on the axis in a decorative cartouche. The station facade in Przemyśl, Galicia (see gallery right), features a similar cartouche clock - but also more clearly emphasizes the large square reception hall, contained in the middle risalit, which features large windows.

In countries not confined to the classical architectural tradition, station building designers soon began to use the theme of the clock tower, taken over from the town hall or church. This theme sometimes served more utilitarian purposes - there were also some water towers. The clock tower become particularly popular around the start of the 20th century. Along with a covered driveway, it may be a distinguishing characteristic of railway station buildings. A good example of the use of the clock tower, modelled on the town hall, is the Gdańsk Główny station building in Poland (see photo at right).


Both the latter two examples from the above gallery, as well as the Gdańsk railway station, demonstrate the characteristic features of the station building in a mature railway station architecture. Illustrated are the elevations and the large building volumes, which had both indoor platforms and - increasingly - a reception hall. There are many examples in which the interpenetration of interior and exterior space is thus a guiding principle for identifying the function of stations.

This principle is revealed in the earliest major stations in which train halls were highlighted. The solution was pioneered at Paris Gare de Strasbourg (later called the Gare de l'Est) of 1849. A more modern example, and one readily repeated, is the first permanent station in Munich (demonstrating more universal forms of the Italian Renaissance instead of neo romanticism).

A similarly attractive model was the Lehrter Bahnhof in Berlin, opened in 1871, which used the triumphal arch motif as part of its facade (e.g. the pattern was repeated at the Budapest Keleti station).

At a later stage of development, ticket halls were introduced. At the important Paris-Nord station, platforms extended inside the hall right up to the facade. In Bremen and Roubaix, a reception hall was created to occupy the whole height of the building - and appropriately it was stressed in the station facade. These stations are also examples of structures that managed to achieve high consistency between the building forms of the reception hall and the platforms. Dichotomy between the platforms and the station building is an issue that is not without difficulties.

By contrast, British station architecture largely rejected this path of development: buildings that correspond to European trends are very scarce. One of the important stations of the British Empire, the Victoria Terminus in Bombay (now Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus), is a very impressive neo-Gothic building, crowned by a cupola, a feature often associated with railway architecture. The building also remains completely autonomous from the large hall of the platforms located on the side.

Over time, growing volumes of traffic prompted the construction of the railway stations of increasing scale. More and more stations also satisfied the ambitions of the city, railway boards, and countries whose railways have had to shape an appropriate image of the country.

Around the start of the 20th century, one could even speak of a certain megalomania, manifested in the deliberate use of architectural forms which give large and high spaces, with or without a small association with the great architecture of imperial Rome. Architects building many American Union Stations deliberately alluded to the ancient baths (e.g., New York train stations, Union Station in Chicago). In Europe, perhaps the best example of the megalomania of the railway station is Milano Centrale.

From the now shunned Stalinist architectural tradition, there were also megalomanic stations in the USSR, which had to meet the objectives of "Socialist Realism." During this period, Stalinist architecture was rooted in historical forms, not adopting trends of modernism.

The clock tower, transformed into a spire topped with a red star, is probably the most characteristic motif of larger Soviet stations. External decoration often tried to portray the traditional national forms, up to the Russian Renaissance. Kharkiv railway station, however, presents an eclectic design linking it with the classical and baroque motifs. The era was closed by the Finlyandsky Rail Terminal in St. Petersburg (completed 1960), which is a mixture of social realism and modernism.

Further west, in Poland, Socialist Realist architecture is represented in Gdynia Główna, amongst others.

Small stations[edit]

Provincial stations have been shaped in many ways and have presented themselves in a variety of stylistic forms. Usually, however, the form reflects the popularity of various styles in different countries and eras.

There are many forms of the romantic in Britain, Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Poland referring to the dominant styles of the classical tradition. In all countries with station buildings, there is also resort to local architectural forms.

Other elements of station architecture[edit]

Main article: train shed

Railway station architecture is not just the architecture of the station building. It includes the design of separate platforms and canopies, or the train shed (i.e. an the overall canopy for the platforms and tracks), if any. Also, shelters can impart the characteristic face of the station and be more than a utilitarian form of construction.

Architects also create railway station towers, and buildings and equipment associated with the movement of trains: control rooms, and even signals, sometimes grouped together on the platforms over the tracks. The continued existence of these objects, especially the control room, is sometimes at risk when traffic safety technologies are updated.

See also[edit]



A bibliography of the history and design of railway stations could be very extensive. In almost all countries where there is a railway system, at least one book has been published on the national fusion of architecture around the railway station.

Synthesis of trans-national literature (selection):

  • Edwards, Brian (1997). The Modern Station: New Approaches to Railway Architecture. London: E & FN Spon. ISBN 0-419-19680-3. 
  • Kubinszky, Mihály (1969). Bahnhöfe Europas (in German). Stuttgart: Franckh'sche Verlagshandlung. 
  • Meeks, Carroll L.V. (1956). The Railway Station. An Architectural History. New Haven: Yale University Press.  (also (1957). London: Architectural Press)
  • Parissien, Steven (1997). Station to Station. London: Phaidon. ISBN 0-7148-3467-X. 
  • Ross, J (ed) (2000). Railway Stations. Planning, design and management. Oxford: Architectural Press. ISBN 0-7506-4376-5. 
  • Richards, Jeffrey; MacKenzie, John M. (1986). The Railway Station. A Social History. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-215876-7. 

National and regional synthesis (selection):

  • Aguilar, Inmaculada; Palacio, Pedro Navascués; Bustamante, Alberto Humanes; et al. (1980). Estaciones Ferroviarias de Madrid. Su arquitectura e incidencia en el desarrollo de la ciudad (in Spanish). Madrid: Colegio Oficial de Arquitectos de Madrid. 
  • Godoli, E.; Cozzi, M. (eds) (2004). Architettura ferroviaria in Italia. Ottocento (in Italian). Palermo: Dario Flaccovio Editore. ISBN 88-7758-599-4. 
  • Godoli, E.; Lima, A. I. (eds) (2004). Architettura ferroviaria in Italia. Novecento (in Italian). Palermo: Dario Flaccovio Editore. ISBN 88-7758-597-8. 
  • Berger, Manfred (1980–96). Historische Bahnhofsbauten I–IV. Berlin (O): Transpress. ISBN 3-344-00066-7.  ISBN 3-344-00067-5, ISBN 3-344-00267-8, ISBN 3-344-71029-X (German)
  • Biddle, Gordon (1986). Great Railway Stations of Britain. Newton Abbott: David & Charles. ISBN 0-7153-8263-2. 
  • Biddle, Gordon; Nock, O.S.; et al. (1983). The Railway Heritage of Britain. 150 Years of Railway Architecture and Engineering. London: Michael Joseph. ISBN 0-7181-2355-7. 
  • Biddle, Gordon (1973). Victorian Stations. Newton Abbott: David & Charles. ISBN 0-7153-5949-5. 
  • Horváth, Ferenc; Kiss, Zsuzsanna; Kubinszky, Mihály; Vörös, Tibor (1999). The Architecture and the Hungarian Railway. Budapest: MÁV. ISBN 963-03-7927-9. 
  • Jackson, Alan A. (1969). London's Termini. Newton Abbott: David & Charles. 
  • Krejčiřík, Mojmír (2003-04). Česká nádraží. Architektura a stavební vývoj (in Czech) I–II. Litoměřice: Vydavatelství dopravní literatury. ISBN 80-902706-8-9.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  • Kubinszky, Mihály; Gombár, György (1989). Bahnhöfe in Ungarn 1846-1988 (in German). Budapest: MÁV. ISBN 963-316-267-X. 
  • Lamming, Clive (1999). Paris ferroviaire (in French). Parigramme. ISBN 2-84096-115-6. 
  • Potter, Janet Greenstein (1996). Great American Railroad Stations. Washington, D.C.: Preservation Press. ISBN 0-471-14389-8. 
  • Romers, Dr H (1981). De Spoorwegarchitektuur in Nederland 1841-1938 (in Dutch). Zutphen: De Walburg Pers. ISBN 90-5730-090-7. 
  • Stutz, Werner (1983). Bahnhöfe der Schweiz. Von den Anfangen bis zum Ersten Weltkrieg (in German). Zürich: OrellFüssli. ISBN 3-280-01405-0. 
  • 杉崎行恭 (Yukiyasu Sugizaki) (2000). 駅舎再発見―時代の姿をとどめる駅舎を訪ねて (Ekisha saihakken. Jidai-no sugata-o todomeru ekisha-o tazunete) (in Japanese). Tōkyō: JTB. ISBN 4-533-03675-9. 

External links[edit]

The lead section of this article is based upon a translation of the Italian-language version as at January 2011. The rest of the article is based upon a translation of part of the Polish-language version, and is currently a work in progress.