stuttgart-21

Last week’s New York Times published an article about the efforts to expand the rail station in Stuttgart, Germany.  Nicolai Ouroussoff wrote of the project which is designed to house new high speed rail lines and help connect rail lines across the EU:

The clash between builders and preservationists is as old as architecture itself, but it reached a fever pitch in the recent gilded age. And it is especially fraught in Germany, where the construction boom that began with the country’s reunification sometimes seems like a convenient tool for smoothing over unpleasant historical truths.

Few current projects better illustrate this conflict than Stuttgart 21, a plan to build an enormous new railway station, along with 37 miles of underground track, in the heart of this old industrial city. The $7 billion development, which is expected to be approved by the end of the year, is part of an ever-expanding high-speed train network that planners hope will one day link the entire continent. As one of the largest developments in Europe, it could radically transform the city center.

But the design shows a callous disregard for architectural history. Its construction would require the partial destruction of one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks: the Hauptbahnhof, Paul Bonatz’s Stuttgart central rail terminal, a monument of early German Modernism built from 1914 to 1928.

Car have rest stops and airplanes have airports, but no means of transportation has a place to intersect with the mode quite like railroads and their train stations.  Train stations can be magnificent like Grand Central Station and 30th Street Station.  Classic train stations have also frequently been ruined and mocked, like New York’s Penn Station (H/T Infrastructurist).

I appreciate the efforts in Stuttgart to build something magnificent and memorable and forward thinking, but it should not come at the expense of history.  There are certain buildings and places that stand as landmarks and should be preserved not just as art, but also for the sanctity of the identity of the city.  I also believe rail stations should be alluring to the passenger.  Airports and highways are conveniences of necessity.  Railroad stations should not just be practical spaces, but entrances and destinations.  The new design for Stuttgart is impressive, but I hope they can preserve the current station while making the additions.

Railroads are promoted for their convenience as usually being placed in the middle of cities, as opposed to major highways and especially airports.  Those train stations should be city jewels and once built be part of the identity of the city for years to come.  Cities are frequently defined by their architecture, whether it is skyscrapers and bridges.  The appearance of trains is guaranteed to change over the decades, but a train station can always be a classic.  I only hope that trains will be in such demand that stations must grow to accommodate the traffic, but they should not be changed such that they lose their souls.

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