Human Behavior Audit:
New NS Delft Station
Good design takes into consideration human behavior — the flow and movement of people as they interact with their environment. The contribution of anthropologists to good design is to examine, in this case commuters, as people. This means individuals from our perspective, are not just consumers, but understood as holistic persons in a cultural context. In this case for mobility, I look at the entire cycle of a commute and not just the actual boarding period.
The newly launched NS Delft train station in February 2015 has been a great relief for visiting and residential commuters who had to endure the limited mobility in the old platform. This is a common dilemma for users from smaller and older stations who have to navigate luggage, baby buggies, or their knees through climbing up and down stairs. Most have been retrofitted with lifts. Stations such as Delft, sitting in the heavy traffic region of South Holland, in between major cities of The Hague and Rotterdam, was due for an overhaul.
The Stationplein, the area of the station extending to the TU Delft, is currently under construction and is projected to finish in 2017. The immediate surrounding real estate of the station itself will see their assets appreciate as the noise and blight of the overhead tracks have been removed. This will be replaced by a new visual landscape of a canal view and a green zone with trees. This will greatly diminish the grim industrial environs of Delft upon arrival.
The multi-awarded Delft architectural firm, Mecanoo, took the challenge to create a responsive new station to address the two major transport problems confronting Delft. One is the expansion of the rail capacity from two to a four rail network. This will decrease delays of the over 300 trains that pass through Delft, including the high speed rail and cargo rail that do not stop at the station. The second is a structure that will address the growing traffic, particularly from the Technological University of Delft (TUDelft), which has breached the 20,000 undergraduate student mark.
The result is a modernist glass building “designed without an apparent front or rear” adjacent to the classic style station which was opened in 1885. The two structures are not connected in any way in function or in design. This disconnection can be seen when coming from the south, the area where the dense high rise apartments and university housing is situated.
I find this view visually jarring as you approach from the southside. This is a question that I will further ask Mechanoo. But I remain hopeful that the additional bike parking facilities behind the heritage building will integrate the old structure with the new transport landscape. The white wall now has a cheesy billboard of the Girl with the Pearl Earring “branding” Delft.
Arguably, the best place to view this complex is from an aerial spot from the Oude Delft side (centrum side). Despite the lack of a clear “front,” the beauty of their design is apparent from this “front” perspective.
But this is not the daily view of the every day commuters as they approach the station from the Northwest and South side. If you look at the map below, I have outlined the areas where the bulk of the housing are located. However, if the purpose of the architects is for the tourists coming from or headed to the city center, then the aim of the design would have been fulfilled.
If however, you live in the northwest area and approaching the station from the western side, this is the view that you will see. An ugly wall, most likely a placement for future billboards and a service entrance for the municipality offices which will occupy the top floor.
Perhaps when the rehabilitation is complete, greenery will offset the ugly view. But pedestrian traffic from the northwest and southwest would have to contend with this and gain little benefit from the aesthetic of the “front” perspective. It is too bad that this was not taken into consideration and now presents what I see as a form of design blight to the neighborhood.
If you are a bike commuter pedaling towards the station from the southwest, the cycling experience is easy, smooth and convenient. The Dutch infrastructure is a model for cycling, nothwithstanding any disturbance in the area.
The whole construction area — infrastructure removal, drilling, and paving has not hampered car, bike or human traffic in the area. The 2015 Scheuperprijs award for the Delft team rightly acknowledged the expertise in underground construction while ensuring continued service and reduced disruption of activities above ground.
I have road tested the south to north route and they have done a wonderful job of paving temporary roads leading to the new underground bike parking. But even at 5,000 spaces, you will be hard pressed to find a slot especially during peak hours (7–9am), so there are some temporary provisions above ground. But I love the smooth underground entrance as you approach it.
The downside to this new underground is the reduction of the NS Delft bike station to house an exclusive OV bike rental and small repair area only. Gone is the extensive second hand bike shop and multiple brand bike rental.
This is a loss for the community. You would be hard pressed to find an alternative (if a guest prefers a bike with hand brakes, for instance) except for those in private bike shops. A tip for visitors, there are two other rental option at the public bike parking lot near the Oude Kerk and the DOK library. Otherwise, you would have to secure private day rentals.
As you park your bike, in the cavernous bike hall, there are two options to enter the train platform. On each end, there are exits. The southern exit has a card reloader machine and a full body turnstile. But this can be closed most times and poses an inconvenience for harried customers. This forces all traffic to enter the main hallway and queue to reload on the two machines to enter the platform. It may mean missing the train for those without an automatic reloading on their OV chipkaart.
A recent rule implemented by the NS also pose an additional inconvenience to bikers. If you are only planning to park your bike and walk to the city centre or bring a friend to the station, then top up your card up to the amount of 5 euros since the main exits have barriers. This rule applies even if you just need to go up the escalator to the main lobby. Otherwise, be prepared to take the bike exits and a longer route. This inconvenient rule also applies to Rotterdam Centraal whose gates are not open for walk-throughs or shoppers. (This is another observation for another post).
Once you pass the gates and reach the platform, one will realize how the new Delft station can now accommodate the projected increase in commuters and the beauty of the hallway (that is, if you are not in a rush).
The pedestrian experience comes second to cycling here. It will be a couple of years before pedestrians will enjoy a greenbelt in which the train station will be the anchor infrastructure in a rehabilitated zone stretching north and south to the university — creating a seamless mix-used green landscape.
For now, the majority of foot traffic comes from the north and south entrances of the new station. The construction of the north side has made it difficult to access this point but recently foot bridges have been opened for traffic. Meanwhile, the south side entrances of the new building suffer from narrow entrances.
If you look, the main foot traffic slows down due to a two person revolving door entrance at the corner. This particular corner is critical as it welcomes running bus passengers alighting from at least four bus stops and the general pedestrian and bike commuters — all funneling into this two lane entrance. This is a choke point. It is a potential danger are for stampede or if one is simply in a hurry. You must divert and use the other entrances. The other corner entrance on the far left remains underutilized at the moment because it is inconvenient to pass through and “invisible” from a pedestrian perspective. (As of last year 2015, the doors have since been removed and immediately eased movement!)
The major culprit for this traffic faux pas is the design. The beautiful interior skylight at the entrance of the bike parking below inhibits the construction of a wider entrance above. This aesthetic comes at the cost of efficiency and ease of movement by the people rushing to exit and catch buses outside.
Another awkward design is the location of the escalators. If you are entering from the southside, you need to physically turn to take the escalators from the soutside.
Watch out for the two reloading machines beside the escalators which can further impede your escalator approach — this is especially critical when the machine queue is 2–3 individuals long. The other machines are at the back and difficult to spot.
If you are entering from the north side, a clear view of the escalators is hampered by a foundation post which also houses two shops. This breaks the expanse of the main entrance lobby of the station and makes it seem smaller than it is. As a commuter, you would have to go around the shop in order to find the escalators going down. While the tile work and posts were made to dazzle, it does not enhance traffic flow. This structural anomaly works well for the surrounding shops there.
But this separation of areas creates a small, intimate and “gezellig” space for eating, people watching, and enjoying an occasional piano performance that is open to anyone who can play!
Overall, the new Delft station provides greater ease and mobility for commuters compared with the old one. I would rate it at 3.5 stars. The new design misses some important user features that would truly create a seamless user design experience. But I don’t doubt that the interiors is something unique and a pride for residents and for the Dutch.