Graz Hauptbahnhof in Austria is one of those stations where an architect has been let loose not in one big makeover, but across a number of smaller schemes, eventually rendering it almost completely unrecognisable from its original state. As such, it’s sort of slipped under the radar, but it’s no less good in spite of that.
Graz station’s importance, and the reason for its most recent architectural interventions, is that it is at the eastern end of the Koralm Railway, a new high speed line which will connect Graz to Klagenfurt with vastly reduced travel times; an hour or so instead of three (gotta love a high speed railway). It will also assist with railfreight on the Baltic-Adriatic corridor, about which I’m a lot more vague. I do try, but there are an awful lot of railway projects to keep up with. If you want more background information, try this railway-technology.com article, or this EU Koralm Railway project page.
Vienna-based architecture practice Zechner & Zechner had its first go at Graz station in 1999-2001 in the Bahnhofsoffensive Graz project, part of a national Bahnhofsoffensive, the aim of which was to modernise Austrian state railway operator OBB’s main stations. The station was made fully accessible, one of the first in Austria to be so treated, and although the station’s main post-war ticket hall was retained, the wings on either side were replaced by a large glass-walled retail and commercial mall. So far, so unremarkable. Graz was then nominated as European City of Culture in 2003, and the main ticket hall gained an impressive artwork by artist Peter Kogler. It’s essentially an indoor wrap of the ticket hall’s walls, with an abstract red and silver design on plastic fabric. It was so popular with station users that it was left in place even after the end of the City of Culture celebrations.
With progress on the Koralm Railway being made, and the increasing realisation of Graz’s importance as the end of the line at the eastern end, it became clear that further work was necessary to modernise the rest of the station. It’s slightly away from Graz’s city centre, and its tram connection to the city centre is therefore extremely important. The station also hosts several bus routes, because that’s just the way things get done in mainland Europe. Like many stations, the interchange between train, tram and bus was never really formally planned, but just sort of happened over the decades. The Koralm Railway project was the perfect excuse to plan everything from the ground up. Or, in the case of the trams, from the ground down.
The tram lines originally ran in a loop around Europaplatz at the front of the station, and the key to the interchange redevelopment was to bury them in a shallow tunnel under the station forecourt. The bus stops were retained at surface level, but rationalised and placed under a proper shelter. And it’s really quite some shelter, as you can see via this Google Maps link, or this photograph (sorry, I’ve really struggled for shareable photographs this week).
Essentially it’s an irregular ring shape (slightly reminiscent of Strasbourg’s tram stop at Homme de Fer), which widens out over the main set of bus stops – a few others are located further along the ring. This part of the ring features a large skylight, bringing light down through the canopy. The rest of the canopy provides a sheltered walk between the bus stops, station entrance and the two entrances down to the underground tram platforms, where lifts and stairs provide access. At night, a sensitive lighting scheme really brings the new canopy to life (go on, give it a spin around):
The new tram platforms under the surface are just as dramatic as the bus stops and the ring-shaped canopy, with geometric shapes formed in shades of grey from coloured tiling, and illuminated green signage providing contrasting highlights. Large areas of the roof at the station have been left open to allow light and air into the subterranean platforms.
There’s also a super cycle shelter with an angular roof covering plentiful double-deck cycle parking, to round off the provision for sustainable travel modes:
That left the platforms of the railway station itself, where short canopies were clearly going to provide insufficient shelter given the expected rise in passenger numbers when the Koralm Railway is finally completed in the early 2020s. Even before then, parts of the new line are opening in stages, and commuter services at Graz are being steadily improved, so there was a need for urgent action. Not only were the existing canopies too small, but they also lacked the wow factor that the terminus of the new railway deserved.
Zechner & Zechner’s final piece of work was the design of new canopies, and a new pedestrian tunnel linking the platforms to the rest of the station. There are three canopies (as they are on island platforms that means six platform faces), linked towards the middle by a double arch roof. The roof, like the Europaplatz canopy, contains large skylights to let daylight down onto the platforms.
There’s a feel of Liège-Guillemins here, which also an arched roof running parallel to the tracks rather than at right angles to them as is more traditional in railway station trainsheds. Liège’s construction is filigree glass and steel though, whereas Graz’s canopies are sleek and curvaceous, belonging to the school of slippery attractiveness that Apple has tapped into for its products, and which is less often seen in the world of transport infrastructure (though regular readers will remember Barcelona’s Drassanes station); there are plenty of photos on Zechner & Zechner’s website (full details below). Work was completed in 2015. As with the canopy in front of the station, the platform canopies are even more attractive at night:
The new northern pedestrian tunnel, meanwhile, runs east-west under the station, providing a link to both sides of the track and reducing the severance that large railway stations tend to impose. Opened in 2013, it once again features an artwork by Peter Kogler, 150m-long and identifiably related to the one in the main ticket hall, but with a colour palette of grey and pale blue this time around.
After over a decade of work, Graz Hauptbahnhof and the interchange outside now make for a fabulously attractive structure, extremely photogenic, and a worthy gateway to the Koralm Railway and its new high speed services.
Bibliography and Further Reading
OBB Infra’s page on the Graz modernisation project, here
Zechner & Zechner’s project pages for…
…Bahnhofsoffensive Graz, here
…Transport interchange at Europaplatz, here
…Graz main station, here
Peter Kogler’s portfolio pages for…
…Main ticket hall artwork, here
…Northern pedestrian tunnel artwork, here
As usual, anything linked to in the text above will also have been used.