This summer, Congress and the White House have been hammering out an infrastructure agreement which—though far from a done deal—could result in nearly $600 billion in new federal dollars for roads, bridges, and railways. It is urgently needed: the last such bill, passed in 2015 during the Obama administration, was small—and today we are driving on potholed highways and dangerously cracked bridges, more than 7 percent of which are considered structurally deficient.
The Senate legislation now being developed is meant to earmark more than $100 billion for rail and mass transit, too; and $200 billion for water, sewer, and power upgrades. It would even include $65 billion for broadband internet infrastructure, desperately required in rural and other underserved communities, as well as $47 billion for climate resilience.
We all know what infrastructure is, but we still disagree on what it isn’t. Already slashed from President Biden’s wish list during this bipartisan round of negotiations were funds to support affordable housing (arguably an essential undergirding for a successful society) and soft infrastructure programs for childcare and education.
Yet let’s hail these potential, long-overdue investments for civic projects in concrete and steel—and for enhancing public transit as well as automobile travel.
This month, RECORD reports on models of urban transportation infrastructure. In this issue, we explore what it takes to build—or rebuild—public works in six cities around the globe. Some projects tackle long-standing, large-scale, complex problems, while others are relatively simple but nonetheless demand a well-designed response.
In two major cities, for example—Stuttgart, Germany, and Sydney, Australia—beloved, historic train stations, in the heart of those urban centers, are undergoing radical transformations. Stuttgart’s proto-modern 1928 station by Bonatz and Scholer was a terminus; now, as part of a multibillion-dollar infrastructure plan, the tracks are being rotated 90 degrees—and going below grade—as the city links to the Paris-to-Budapest rail route (the original station is being repurposed and a section of it demolished). A new underground station has been designed by Christoph Ingenhoven, who won a competition in 1997. He worked on that scheme with the late Frei Otto, whose experiments in light construction helped inspire the graceful, chalice-like columns and light monitors that distinguish this remarkable project. In Sydney, a team led by Woods Bagot and John McAslan + Partners is creating new underground metro platforms; a connection to link the subway to inner-city rail lines and the street; and, most visibly, a vast, urban “room,” adjacent to the venerable 1906 classical-style Central Station, which will bring together commuters, travelers, and the public.
Meanwhile, in the middle of Tokyo, Kengo Kuma, in designing the new Takanawa Gateway Station, has evoked both the soaring, elegantly engineered 19th-century rail hubs and—with origami-like roof planes and extensive use of wood—traditional Japanese construction.
More modest projects include Chybík+Krištof’s facelift of a dreary Brutalist bus depot in Brno, Czechoslavakia; two new pavilions to park bikes, created by architecture students in a design-build program at the University of Colorado Denver; and a pedestrian bridge across a key multilane thoroughfare in lower Manhattan, designed by WXY.
Also inventive is Stanley Saitowitz’s clever enhancement of two electrical substations in San Francisco, deploying precast-concrete screens that morph into benches, along with ingenious lighting, to create surprisingly lovely public spaces. To bring beauty to the most quotidian of infrastructure types is a remarkable achievement.
Elsewhere in this issue are three very different projects, where the architects clearly had skin in the game—from the shimmering, faceted walls of stainless-steel block in Frank Gehry’s LUMA Arles art tower to the fluted glass curtain wall of a Washington, D.C., office building by REX. Finally, in Paris, the long-awaited revival by SANAA of La Samaritaine department store has opened—though the Japanese firm’s wavy translucent wrapping, a signature of the design, may well be upstaged by the magnificent restoration of the early 20th-century atrium of the legendary emporium.
From the essential to the extravagant, this is architectural imagination at every scale.