Calatrava’s white bird
Dec 7, 2015

Getting swiftly from A to B: At “Liège-Guillemins” railway station located in the Belgian city of Liège everything is about transport, transparency and premium modes of mobility. From here, travelers can get to London, Paris or Brussels in just a few hours on the high-speed train. And inside the building, the main thing is likewise getting to the right platform as swiftly as possible. To this end, Schindler custom-made special vitreous panorama lifts. Not only are they exceptionally easy to use, but they also blend perfectly with the station’s striking architecture. Having been built more than 30 years ago, Liège railway station had really started to show its age and was no longer able to meet the standards required for a modern high-speed network. Accordingly, architect Santiago Calatrava Valls from Valencia, Spain, was commissioned to “fix” things and in 2009 created a contemporary railway station with a truly impressive roof construction made of glass, steel and white concrete, aptly monikered the “white bird” by public transport operator Thalys.

Indeed, the 200-meter-long glass roof that sits atop slender white steel supports and straddles all of the nine platforms plus the central concourse and gallery, is incredibly airy and light as a feather. As a result, the extensive pedestrian areas on the inside are bright and with a clear layout, meaning that passengers can quickly navigate their way around. Another advantage: Suffused with such brightness, the concourse needs no artificial lighting until it gets dark in the evenings. Escalators by Schindler with vitreous handrails take passengers to the platforms and to the various side exits in comfort as they leisurely explore the concourse’s impressive design in detail. While those in a hurry or having difficulties walking simply opt for one of the six panorama elevators that link the ground floor with the basement, which is where the high-speed trains arrive and depart.

With their domed cabins and tasteful stainless steel cladding, the lifts have the look-and-feel of futuristic glass capsules, which not only go hand in glove with the station’s overall aesthetic concept but also, thanks to their central location, serve as an important point of orientation and gateway to the various platforms. Easy access and points of orientation are important in particular for people with mobility or visual impairments: Wheelchair users pass without difficulty through the wide panorama doors, which comply with the EN 81-70 standard on accessibility. And inside the cabin, tableaus with elevated keys, embossed lettering and acoustic feedback facilitate touch-based elevator operation. Schindler only provided French labeling here but included easy-to-understand pictograms for speakers of other languages. And that is as it should be, because this state-of-the-art railroad station is after all a central transport hub for countless international guests. (sb)

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Up, up and away with the white bird: Since 2009 the train station Liège-Guillemins is Belgium’s high-speed-connection with London, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Cologne and Frankfurt. All Photos © Albert Zimmermann

Wings of glass, steel and faced concrete: Calatrava’s station is impressing with it’s unique architecture. Amorphous are dominating the outside as well as halls and rails inside.

The traffic areas inside are especially bright and wide, so travelers get as fast as possible to their destination. Much daylight is flooding the hall – so there is no need for artificial light until the evening comes.

Transparency and speed: Slim steel arches with a spread of 160 meters carry the bright, light baldachin. The station has excellent mobility solutions – like the 40 escalators made by Schindler, with balustrades of glass, which take reference to the façade construction.

With futuristic capsules through all levels: The panorama lifts made by Schindler are connecting the main hall with the souterrain. Due to their ample cabins and a door width of 900 millimeters (each door part), they offer accessibility following the EN 81-70, so wheelchair users can also use them without any problem.

The panorama lifts are located at the rails, where they also mark an important point for orientation within the ample traffic zones. Schindler’s all-round expertise: The manufacturer also developed the 10 whole track systems.

Invisible Art: Due to the walls, ceilings and floors made of glass, not only the cabin is flooded with light, but also the shafts.

And if the traveler is not in a hurry, he better takes Schindler’s escalators, and takes time to have a look at the main hall’s architecture. The curved steel beams have the form of a cathedral – and some science-fiction-fans may be reminded of HR Giger’s film design.