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TRAVELLING LIGHT.

Through a series of strong, simple interventions that help to reorder the public realm, this new bus station for Walsall dignifies the experience of bus travel.

Hard on the heels of Walsall's New Art Gallery (AR May 2000) comes further evidence of a minor urban renaissance in this small Midlands town. The new bus station by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris replaces an existing one, which had long become a disruptive and dreary element in the town centre. The new scheme reorders the site through a series of strong, simple interventions that civilize the experience of bus travel. The design was the outcome of a competition, held by Centro, the local transport body, and was the first of its kind for a bus station in the UK.

The site lies in a conservation area next to the main shopping precinct. Its boundary conditions vary significantly, and include a church, the backs of large department stores and a post office yard. Reconciling the complexities of vehicle and pedestrian circulation and making sense of a fragmented townscape were the brief's major challenges, but Allford Hall Monaghan Morris's solution is both functional and elegant.

Three bus islands and a concourse building are sheltered by a streamlined elliptical canopy. Supported by slender steel columns that splay arboreally at their tops, the concrete canopy is perforated by a series of different-sized oculi. Light filters down through the holes, bathing the concourse below in a soft and slightly mysterious radiance (a tableau that irresistibly recalls Powell & Pressburger's famous cinematic vision of heaven in A Matter of Life and Death).

The strong monolithic form of the canopy unites the disparate urban realm and gives the bus station an appropriately heroic sense of identity. The geometry of the ellipse mirrors and orders the flow of vehicle traffic in and around the building. Full scale mock-ups of bus-lane configurations were carried out to achieve the most efficient layout. Crisply detailed glass screens enclose the bus islands, protecting pedestrians from traffic fumes but also making circulation instantly legible. A two-storey concourse building containing waiting rooms, ticket hall and offices occupies the south-west corner of the site, addressing a new square. What was formerly a dispiriting urban backwater dominated by traffic has been transformed into a coherent and dignified public realm. Allford Hall Monaghan Morris's scheme shows the benefits of enlightened patronage by endowing a dreary typology with clarity and civitas.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:design of bus station in Walsall, England
Author:SLESSOR, CATHERINE
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 1, 2000
Words:399
Previous Article:QUAY SIGNATURE.
Next Article:STATION MASTER.
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