Decoding Design

Transit hubs emerging as advanced tech, clean energy centers

Posting in Architecture

From a new net-zero-energy transit center in Massachusetts, to walkways that capture the energy produced by commuters, transit hubs are going high-tech and low-impact.

Transit centers tend to be calling cards for cities and architects. These intensely public spaces, shared by locals and tourists alike, often evolve into cultural and community centers. Think about New York City's Grand Central Station. Or the (recently renovated) Kings Cross Station in London. Or the John W. Olver Transit Center in Greenfield, Massachusetts (pictured above).

Come again?

OK, so that third example might not have sprung to mind. But that's because it isn't an iconic transit hub. It's a brand new one, just opened on Monday. It is notable, however, because it is designed to be a net zero building that relies on geothermal, passive solar and wood biomas power. An active chilled beam system--a form of convection cooler that cools air near the building’s roof, using convection currents to cool the rest of the building--will keep commuters cool in the summer. LED lights and daylighting will reduce energy consumption, too.

The $15.4 million project, developed by engineering firm Arup and Charles Rose Architects, used $13 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

It's one of many projects emerging in transit centers and other travel hubs that are incorporating renewable energy and other advanced technologies such as energy harvesting systems that take advantage of a free, constant and predictable resource: people and people-movers.

As we've reported, Stockholm's Central Station, a geothermal system is being developed to capture body heat from travelers and use it to help heat a neighboring structure. In Paris, a system at the Rambuteau Metro station will also exploit heat from moving trains.

Transit stations and transit systems, specifically rail, are particularly well suited for energy harvesting systems that can exploit footfall and vibrations (from passing trains, for example) to supplement the station's power needs.

London-based Pavegen is installing its energy-harvesting walkway pads to capture energy from the footfalls of around 1 million visitors at the upcoming London Olympic Games. Here's hoping that this extended period of use and abuse on those tiles will serve as a great test case for whether they'd be a good permanent fit for transit centers, going forward.

Here's a (slightly dated) video that depicts the ways that energy can be harvested in a train station:

Image: Courtesy Charles Rose Architects

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Mary Catherine O'Connor

Contributing Writer

Mary Catherine O'Connor has written for Outside, Fast Company, Wired.com, Smithsonian.com, Entrepreneur, Earth2Tech.com, Earth Island Journal and The Magazine. She is based in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure