Future-proofing transport infrastucture with steel

As passenger numbers grow, specifying the right materials to future-proof stations and airports has never been more important. Andrew Jackson, director at SAS International, looks at how steel solutions meet the required design flexibility and aesthetic demand while providing long-term value at a reasonable cost.

Airports, train, underground and bus stations are all part of large transport networks that are constantly in the process of development and change.

They’re becoming increasingly sophisticated, incorporating shopping malls, restaurants, hotels and entertainment facilities are providing a more attractive environment. The steady growth in passenger numbers means the design of these types of build- ings has become crucial. Often giving the first impression of a city, they represent some of the most creative and innovative architecture in the world.

The use of high-performance products to help ensure and improve the overall passenger experience also involves creating innovative and interesting interiors. Selecting the right materials not only helps create the final look to enhance architectural vision, but also ensures future generations will benefit from the facility. Balancing aesthetics with the performance qualities of materials is therefore high on the agenda – the design and integration of the fit-out needs to be visually appealing as well as durable, maintainable and flexible.

Long-term value

Infrastructure projects require flexible design that anticipates change – transport hubs have to be prepared to cater for future passenger demand.

Materials specified for the interior fit-out of train stations and airports must be robust enough to handle the increased crowd pressure that’s forecast in the coming years.

Building materials such as steel are increasingly being used in key transport projects, not only for their general durability, but for their ability to withstand challenging conditions. Particularly in high traffic areas, materials undergo significant stresses.

Alternative materials struggle under conditions that require high performance characteristics, both in terms of durability and aesthetics. Steel’s properties suit a variety of product applications for which there is no energy and cost-effective substitutes. In transport environments steel is being used for applications such as cladding, wall panels and ceilings.

Bespoke solutions

Transport hubs always have specific design requirements to take into consideration, with many of them requiring bespoke solutions. As security and service integration are important specification criteria, the use of metal ceilings allows for designs to be flexible but also tough enough to cope with the constant wear and tear. Being one of the most robust construction materials, metal isn’t easily damaged and can be utilised for regular access to the building services.

Ceilings for the transportation sector tend to be vaulted or tubular to allow for areas to feel spacious while ensuring smoke extraction can take place. London Cannon Street station, for example, was fitted out with a tubular system to be able to handle fire and smoke within the station while also providing an aesthetically pleasing backdrop. The system was specified throughout the public concourse, stretching onto the beginning of the platforms, offering a robust solution for the demanding environment.

Public concourse areas are semi-external spaces where ceilings are exposed to an accumulation of dust and high levels of humidity, therefore, the chosen ceiling had to be a low-maintenance system that retained its appearance over time.

Transport hubs are high-traffic zones, demanding exceedingly durable, attractive, easy to maintain, and impact-resistant surfaces such as protective panels and wall cladding.

Aesthetics of metal

Milton Keynes Central Railway Station underwent a refurbishment to handle a projected 30 per cent traffic increase over the next 10 years, and features high-impact metal clad columns in the main ticket hall. The attractive metal columns rise up to the ceiling and provide support for the structure, while also breaking up the open spaces and forming a walkway.

An outstanding example for marrying design with performance is the Terminal 4 departure lounge at Heathrow Airport (pictured right). The installed acoustic baffles provide a wave effect to the soffit, and were designed with a secret, fix- formed capping at the bottom edge of the panels for aesthetic
purposes. To enhance the wave effect, LED lighting strips were installed on brackets supported by the baffles. The LEDs are all independently controlled to provide colour and movement and can be varied throughout the day to control the ambience in theterminal.

Steel is a versatile material and can be installed into a multitude of structures. Transport hubs not only have to be designed to make the passenger’s journey as comfortable as possible, but to provide a retail experience while waiting for trains and aeroplanes.

Waterloo station, the UK’s busiest train station, exploited metal’s modern aesthetic for its recently installed, 220m-long retail balcony. Accommodating a variety of shops and restaurants at mezzanine level, the balcony is visually striking, in no small part due to the choice of material.