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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
References and further reading
“Bus stop..” The Free Library. 1997 EMAP Architecture 08 July 2015. http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Bus+stop.-a019498627
Neils Torp’s project page on the Nils Ericson Terminal, here