Streets Ahead, Inside (Nils Ericson Terminal, Gothenburg, Sweden)

In an ideal world, all bus or coach stations would be as good as the Nils Ericson Terminal in Gothenburg. Actually, in an ideal world, all bus or coach stations would be the Nils Ericson Terminal, modified to fit the site as necessary. It is, without a doubt, one of the world’s best bus stations. Or, as The Architectural Review put it, “A successful attempt to moderate and humanise the scale of a very large structure for a normally inhospitable and unpleasant building type.”¹

Built adjoining Gothenburg’s main railway station, because this is mainland Europe, and that’s how things tend to be done there, the Nils Ericson Terminal is 150 metres of superb Scandinavian design by Norwegian architect Neils Torp. The main structure is an asymmetric glass and steel arched roof which reaches down to the ground on one side, and almost all the way down on the other.

There’s an obvious immediate similarity with Grimshaw’s Waterloo International (recognised not just by me¹), which also has an asymmetric-arch glass and steel roof, but once over that initial impression, you’ll see that Nils Ericson Terminal has a lot more glass, and the trusses which support the roof seem less conspicuous inside. Also, while Waterloo International’s roof shelters relatively spartan platforms because the waiting rooms, ticket offices and other passenger amenities were located under the platforms, Nils Ericson Terminal contains all of passenger facilities necessary for its functioning, so there’s a more lively feel to proceedings.

There’s a lot going on in here, both in terms of activity and in design. Neils Torp rationalised the interior by conceiving of it as having ‘streets’ running along its length. One ‘street’ is the main path for movement to or from the doors to the 20-odd bus/coach bays located along the south-west edge of the terminal.

Inside Nils Ericson Terminal, the area alongside the gates to the bus/coach bays is free of obstacles, while seating areas are arranged in a parallel run more towards the centre of the Terminal. Photo by Daniel Wright [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via this flickr album

As you can see, this area is left free of hindrance for ease of movement. Moving in towards the centre of the bus station, running parallel is another ‘street’ which contains the waiting areas. Benches of pale wood are arranged in small groups and ensconsed by wood walls, with informational signage placed on totems. Parallel to this is another ‘street’ for free movement, giving easy access to the row of refreshment facilities and other passenger amenities, which are arranged along the north-east length of the terminal.

Inside Nils Ericson Terminal, streetlights and trees add to an outside-inside feel. Photo by Daniel Wright [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via this flickr album
Inside Nils Ericson Terminal, streetlights and trees add to an outside-inside feel. Photo by Daniel Wright [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via this flickr album

There’s a feel of the outside on the inside at Nils Ericson Terminal, in which the details subtly contribute to the ‘street’ concept. The lighting columns running down the middle of the terminal mimic street lights, while the inclusion of trees (in a coach station? Whatever will they think of next…) and the arrangement of the seating areas make the whole thing feel like a pedestrianised street in a very civilised European city, which Gothenburg is, anyway. Shop units are built into large wood-faced boxes, which penetrate the roof/wall on east side of the Terminal, and on their external elevations sit on plinths of grey granite.

North-east exterior of the Nils Ericson Terminal. The shop units push through the side of the building. Photo by Ingolf [CC BY 2.0] via this flickr page
North-east exterior of the Nils Ericson Terminal. The shop units push through the side of the building and are detailed with plinths of grey granite. Photo by Ingolf [CC BY-SA 2.0] via this flickr page

The materials used in the terminal are very Scandinavian and bring a clean, soothing aesthetic to bear on the building. The pale wood I’ve already mentioned. The gates to the bus bays are also finished in wood, but framed by plinths of fair concrete, with giant inscribed gate numbers. No confusion or muddle about which gate you’re at in this terminal.

The large concrete plinths to the side of the gates support the roof trusses (so you can see the roof comes down to about head height on this side), and also feature very stylish gate numbers. The gates themselves, which pierce the glazed curtain wall, are finished in pale wood. Photo by Daniel Wright [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via this flickr album

The entrances on the north-east side of the terminal (outside is a glass canopy to protect from Gothenburg’s winter climate, and it’s on this side you can find a drop-off point, car park and taxi rank) are framed by granite, left rough around the edges. There’s a matching entrance on the north-west end, where the shape of the asymmetric arch is particularly apparent.

Photo by Ingolf [CC BY-SA 2.0] via this flickr page
The north-west end of the terminal. Photo by Ingolf [CC BY-SA 2.0] via this flickr page

The roof lets in plenty of daylight. This isn’t one of those dark and gloomy bus stations you come across all too frequently. In fact the south-west side of the roof features sun shades to keep the building cool during long Swedish summer days.

The orientation of this long, long, bus terminal extends south-eastwards through a modern hotel development at the end of Gothenburg Central railway station’s platforms, and into the 1850s-built station building. If you carry on walking in a straight line from the Nils Ericson Terminal, through the railway station building, and out through the south door, you can cross over the road on a convenient pedestrian crossing, walk over a pedestrianised square which contains a travel information office, and find yourself at a tram and bus stop. All this you can achieve without need to veer left or right, unless you find yourself having to navigate around a confused tourist, which you won’t, because the whole complex is rigorously well-organised and easy to comprehend. This is public transport interchange as it ought to be.

I first visited in 2006, 11 years after the Nils Ericson Terminal opened in 1995, but it still looked brand new, such is the quality of its design and materials. I arrived in Gothenburg by ferry from England, as you still could in those days. I picked up from the self-service ticket machine at the railway station a travel ticket I had bought online at home in the UK a few weeks earlier. The machine had English as an option on the first page, which was helpful, and the ticket was for a journey which comprised a train element, a leg on a regional coach, and then another leg on a train. All were timetabled to connect with each other, and the coach called at the railway stations involved. Even today in the UK you can’t book an integrated ticket which will let you make a combined train-coach journey like the one I did in Sweden nine years ago. Is it any wonder the atmosphere in the Nils Ericson Terminal is so relaxed? It’s brilliantly designed, it looks amazing, and it’s the kind of place you’re happy to spend time waiting in civilised surroundings. Not just that, but it serves a transport system which is so well organised that even a tourist can use all of it (bus, train, coach) with no difficulty at all.

One day, all passenger transport will be like this. I hope.

How to find the Nils Ericson Terminal

Click here for The Beauty of Transport’s map

References and further reading

“Bus stop..” The Free Library. 1997 EMAP Architecture 08 July 2015.

Neils Torp’s project page on the Nils Ericson Terminal, here

10 thoughts on “Streets Ahead, Inside (Nils Ericson Terminal, Gothenburg, Sweden)

  1. No chance. In the UK, busses are considered to be for poor and rubbish people therefore we won’t spend any money on facilities as lovely as this.

    1. I really want to disagree – national pride and all that. But I think it’s true that British bus stations generally don’t match (nor are any new ones planned to match) the quality of Nils Ericson Terminal. Modern ones, even when competent like the one in Horsham, tend to be rather sterile and anonymous. We used to do good bus stations a long time ago, but the only modern one I can think of off-hand that might live up to the standard of Nils Ericson Terminal is Will Alsop’s bus station in Barnsley. Happy to be proved wrong by readers with other suggestions though…

      1. As real fan of public transport, I’d love not to have to make the point but it’s true. UK bus stations are generally horrible places (Seaton Carew excepted). Dark, dingy and badly maintained. This is all because bus travel isn’t seen as “nice”. Busses are an inconvienience for drivers and the government.

        One station I thought had potential was the one at Northampton, now demolished. I know you didn’t like it but at least it was designed for the job. Like all brutalist buildings, it needed looking after and never got it but I can’t think of a better example.

      2. Take the point about Northampton. Not one of my favourites, but on the other hand I never mind people having different opinions on various transport buildings. I love the debate, and how dull would it be if we all agreed on what was ‘good’ and what was ‘bad’? It was shockingly badly maintained. I wonder if I might have liked it more if it had had more care and attention lavished on it and had been kept a bit more up-to-date?

        It certainly wasn’t any worse than embarrassing bus stations like the one in Guildford, which could and should be so much better. “Dark, dingy and badly maintained” is the perfect summary for that one – and it’s not even underneath a car park.

  2. Hold the bus…what about the new birmingham coach station? I only suggest it as I liked the curved exterior. I haven’t had a reason to travel to birmingham (or by NX) in a while. I wonder what the finished product looks like. (Probably not nils ericson though).

    1. I’ve not poked about the interior of the Birmingham Coach Station in Digbeth (yet), but that’s a contender, I agree. Hanley I don’t know at all well, so I’ll put it on the list to look at. I quite like the groovy Brutalist bus station it replaced though. I’ve also got an article on the new Slough bus station planned for some point, which looks great on the outside, and is brilliant by UK standards, but still doesn’t quite live up to Nils Ericson standards. You get what you’re prepared to pay for…

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