Neun Künstlerischen Bushaltestellen (BUSSTOPS, Hannover, Germany)

Regular readers will by now be familiar with The Beauty of Transport‘s frustrations concerning modern bus shelter design, and the lack of style that the majority of such structures demonstrate. If you wish to skip ahead, we can meet again in Hannover, Germany, in a few paragraph’s time, for treats like this:

Königsworther Platz bus shelter. By Axel Hindemith (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Königsworther Platz bus shelter, Hannover. By Axel Hindemith (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Previously, we’ve looked at heritage bus and tram shelters that have survived into the present day, showing an almost forgotten sense of style. This week, however, we’re looking at some modern shelters that do what so few others do, and apply a sense of style and excitement to these humble structures.

So what’s wrong with modern bus shelter design? For a start, some of them actually fail to keep waiting passengers dry when it is raining, which is unforgivable, given that sheltering passengers is the basic job of a shelter. Come on guys, the clue is in the name.

Others will keep you dry, so the basic design is acceptable, but their styling is so dreary that it’s barely there at all. Basically, you get a flat roof, and some flat wall- and end-panels. These will almost certainly stop some way short of the ground (and perhaps the roof) allowing the wind / rain / rubbish / rats to enter and leave the shelter at will.

If you’re unlucky enough to use an “advertising shelter” which has been installed as part of an on-street advertising deal between the bus shelter supplier and the relevant local authority (which in many parts of Britain is actually not the local transport authority) then you might very well find that your view of approaching buses is completely blocked by an advertising poster in the end wall.

Nigel Chadwick [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
A common bus shelter as seen in many parts of Britain. Note the large gaps around the bottom of the panels, the gap between the roof and the wall panels, and the advertising frame which blocks passengers’ view of oncoming buses. This shelter is in Kent. By Nigel Chadwick [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

To illustrate the desperate straits that modern bus shelter styling has reached, I can do little better than to recall for you the excitement generated in Britain’s transport infrastructure market when two new bus shelter designs were unveiled about a decade and a half ago. One had…a (flat) glass roof, and the other had (shock) a triangular pillar at one end into which timetables could be placed.

I’m not going to embarrass the shelter suppliers concerned because to be honest, we get the bus shelters we deserve. For as long as the local authorities who strike deals with advertising shelter suppliers are prepared to accept such dreary nonsense in terms of design, there is no incentive for shelter suppliers to invest in more interesting designs. And until passengers start demanding better shelters, local transport authorities will generally accept the best deal they can accept, which means the adveritising shelter supplier maximising its revenues by installing the cheapest shelters it can get away with. It’s not as though bus passengers have a choice, is it? They can hardly go and stand under a different shelter which represents a more inviting environment. There’s only one shelter per bus stop, and while local authorities continue to strike deals with a single shelter supplier to cover their whole area, the next shelter up the road won’t be any better, because it will have come from the same supplier.

And if you think that the solution is to do away with the commercial deals with shelter suppliers who fund their business through selling advertising space on those shelters, I have bad news. In more rural areas, where traffic densities are lower, some local authorities are unable to reach deals with the commercial advertising shelter suppliers. These authorities have to fund all their shelters themselves. I’m sure you can imagine where the provision of bus shelters ranks amongst local authority priorities. As a result, shelters in these areas are usually even worse than those in areas with advertising shelter contracts.

And why is this important? Because bus passengers actually do have a choice. They might not be able to choose to wait in a nicer shelter, but they can very often choose to dump the bus altogether and go by car instead.

As a final thought on the dire straits in which bus shelter design and styling finds itself, a recent “Bus Stop of the Future” project spearheaded by UITP included lots of interesting features, but looked like it was cobbled together with no thought to its appearance. It hardly enhances the streetscape, does it?

That’s why this week’s transport beauty is both unusual and important. It’s a collection of nine bus shelters (some shared with the overlapping tram network) which demonstrate that bus shelters don’t have to be dull. They can be bold, exciting, ambitious, and attractive. What it takes is a local authority with the vision and will to make them so. Many architecturally interesting bus shelters that are on the slate for this blog to look at in the future tend to be one-offs; single ‘landmark’ examples that are impressive, but exist in sad isolation. The important thing about Hannover’s project is that a good number of its bus shelters are departures from the run-of-the-mill.

Even if bus shelters like the ones below might be too expensive for widespread use, or too visually intrusive in more conservative cities, they show what is possible. And if affordable designs were only half as exciting, they would still be far, far better than the miserable structures most bus passengers suffer at the moment.

Without further ado then, let’s have a look at Hannover’s BUSSTOPS project. The shelters at nine bus (or tram) stops were delivered by local transport company üstra (like many mainland European transport companies, it has strong links with the local government region), working with cultural organisation the Foundation of Lower Saxony, and a local Lotto game which provided some of the funding. Installed in the early 1990s, the shelters were üstra’s contribution to Hannover’s public art programme.

“Waiting time should not automatically be considered as lost time, but on the contrary a profit for the purposes of passengers,” says üstra on its website. In order for passengers to profit from such waiting, designers, artists and architects were employed to deliver what üstra calls “playful variations” on the traditional bus shelter.

The bus and tram shelter at Königsworther Platz, illustrated at the beginning of this entry, is by architect Ettore Sottsass (who died in 2007, though the studio he founded is still going strong). Seats are built into the black and white stone of the base, while the whole thing is supposed to be a new take on the form of a table. The large roof and tall walls give good shelter and the whole thing seems rather more substantial than a traditional bus shelter. Next up, a trip to the sea.

By Axel HindemithAxelHH at de.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
The shelter at Museum Sprengel. By Axel HindemithAxelHH at de.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

This bus shelter is at the Museum Sprengel, and is designed to resemble a whale’s tail (and why not?). The blue pillar on which it is installed is illuminated at night, and while I’m not absolutely convinced the whole thing gives better protection from wet or windy weather than a traditional boring bus shelter, it’s certainly gives no worse protection and is definitely a great deal more interesting. It was designed by avant-garde artist Heike Mühlhaus. And what else would you find on the sea, but a big green boat?:

By Benutzer:AxelHH.AxelHH at de.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
By Benutzer:AxelHH.AxelHH at de.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

The shelter at Friedrichswall / Culemannstraße is the work of Massimo Iosa Ghini (who’s also behind the stylish design of a proposed, but not universally welcomed, people mover in Bologna, Italy), and üstra says it’s actually a futuristic airship. Be it a boat or airship, it’s done what boats and airships do, and moved from one location to another, due to changes in Hannover’s bus routes. Rather more prosaically than the modes of transport it resembles, in practice the move happened on the back of a lorry.

From the sea to the countryside, next:

The shelter at Leinau. By Benutzer:AxelHH.AxelHH at de.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
The shelter at Leinaustraße. By Benutzer:AxelHH.AxelHH at de.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Architect and designer Andreas Brandolini‘s shelter at Leinaustraße is served by trams as well as buses, and brings some welcome soft landscaping into the urban environment in the form of a shelter which is half bus stop, half planter.

The next two shelters are served only by trams, but given that modern tram shelters are only occasionally more interesting than modern bus shelters, it’s a welcome change to see something architecturally interesting in this field too.

Steintor tram shelter. By Axel HindemithAxelHH at de.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Steintor tram shelter. By Axel HindemithAxelHH at de.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

This Postmodern fort was designed by Italian architect Alessandro Mendini. It might not be to everyone’s taste (Postmodernism is sometimes regarded as a joke which has worn out its welcome) but its visual impact is hard to deny. Hannover’s other tram-only BUSSTOP is a more restrained affair:

The shelter at Hannover Congress Centrum. By Axel HindemithAxelHH at de.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
The shelter at Hannover Congress Centrum. By Axel HindemithAxelHH at de.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

The work of Oscar Tusquets Blanca, an architect and painter from Barcelona, the shelter’s steel, glass and wood has been designed to complement perfectly the trees within which it stands. The harmony of the natural and artificial is quite pronounced, and üstra notes its relaxing ambience. Blanca has recently worked on the stunning Toledo metro station in Naples, Italy (also on the slate for a future entry in this blog).

Perhaps less peaceful than the tram stop above are the bus and tram shelters at Nieschlagstraße:

One of the two shelters at Nieschlagstraße. By Axel HindemithAxelHH at de.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
One of the two shelters at Nieschlagstraße. By Axel HindemithAxelHH at de.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Two circular sound mirrors on each side of the road allow waiting passengers to converse with their counterparts on the other side of the road (or overhear conversations, perhaps). The interactive pair of sonic bus stops, is the work of design professor Wolfgang Laubersheimer, of the Köln International School of Design.

Arguably the biggest name on the list of contributors to the BUSSTOPS project is architect Frank O. Gehry, responsible for Bilbao’s iconic Guggenheim Museum and many other high-profile buildings besides.

The shelter at Braunschweiger Platz. By Benutzer:AxelHH.AxelHH at de.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
The shelter at Braunschweiger Platz. By Benutzer:AxelHH.AxelHH at de.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

His bus and tram shelter, at Braunschweiger Platz, has an intricately tiled roof of green and gold scales. Supported on spindly stilts at various angles, the shelter was named “Frank’s dinosaur” by the workers who were constructing it, but as a piece of Deconstructivism it’s as modern as bus shelters come, not to mention being very effective at its day job.

The final bus/tram shelter is the least ostentatious, but for that very reason is also the most important. Most of the shelters above really push the envelope, and probably aren’t practical for widespread replication. This final one would fit in to most urban settings with ease, be umpteen times better looking than most city bus shelters, and do a much better job of protecting passengers from the weather as well.

By Benutzer:AxelHH.AxelHH at de.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
The shelter at Aegidientorplatz. By Benutzer:AxelHH.AxelHH at de.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

The shelter by Jasper Morrison (an English industrial designer who would later work on the design of üstra’s late 1990s trams) at Aegidientorplatz has the finesse and style of a Swiss watch. It shows what can be done with a bus shelter to make it much more inviting, and to be a positive contribution to the townscape. It puts the needs of passengers first, with a glass wall at the end of the shelter facing oncoming buses (the advertising posters are placed at the other end of the shelter and on one location along the back wall). It’s set back far enough from the kerbside that passengers can enter it by walking round into it, in case you were wondering.

“The public is the customer,” Jasper Morrison explains of his bus shelter on üstra’s website. Quite. It’s just that most modern bus shelters seem to have forgotten that simple fact, treating the public as a captive market, worthy only of design contempt.

How to find Hannover

Follow this link to the beauty of transport’s map of beauty

Further reading and bibliography

üstra’s BUSSTOPS project page, here

MIMOA’s page on the BUSSTOPS project, here

Follow the links in the main text to the websites of the architects and artists who designed the various bus shelters. Most of their sites have additional information on their individual bus shelter.

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