Waiting area at a train station using hearing, touch, and vision.
A city train station fluctuates between extremely busy spells to relatively empty moments. But, throughout the day, there is quite a bit of commotion. We can augment this or counter it with our sensory design. We will assume a zone in the waiting area has been set aside for our installation, and let’s assume it is an enclosed space. How the enclosure is created, we can worry about later, but let’s look at the senses.
We will start with hearing. There is a great deal of noise in a busy train station, so let’s first look at limiting this noise with white noise. This can be with a machine or audio track, but we can also use flowing water in the space. Which of these makes the most sense depends on the installation’s theme. A train station is very dynamic with manmade machines and spaces, so a waterfall could be an interesting counterpoint. However, we might want to build up the artificial, constructed atmosphere with white noise from a synthesizer, helping elevate the place from the natural.
What if we want to continue in this way with noise, but instead of masking the environment, we build it up? If we would like to continue with the synthesizer, we could create an ambient music track or sample another ambiance and broadcast it in the space. Or, we could record and loop with effects the hustle and bustle of the station users; there are many other possibilities as well. Again, this all depends on what the design intent is.
Now for touch, a train station is consistently composed of hard materials that do not allow imprint. This makes sense, because the station is meant to be used by thousands of people for decades, and many softer materials will not be able to weather well with repeated and constant use. So, let’s counter this with soft materials that show use, as we will assume this installation is temporary, whether for a month or a couple years. Perhaps, the materials of the enclosure can be of this material. We could use traditional materials and methods, such as velvety textiles or upholstery with padding and fine stitching. But, what if the enclosure used a more contemporary material: maybe we can use air or water. We could create a balloon-like structure that is filled with one of these. Furthermore, if we used either of these to fill the enclosure, we might be able to use it to create the white noise in the hearing section above.
In comparison with the site, we could create a hyperbolic structure that overaccentuates sharp angles, hard surfaces, and permanence. What if the enclosure and its furnishings were composed of metal–spikes and chains and hard edges? The choice of material could create a glittering, reflective form that entices the viewer but affronts the one who touches it. Whether we compare or contrast with the context, we must differentiate with it so as to call out our space as an event, as something special.
Finally, let’s look at how we can use vision. Many train stations rely on natural light throughout the day and artificial light in the nighttime to illuminate the space. So, let’s look at augmenting the light, as well as limiting the light. First, let’s think about blocking the surrounding light with an opaque enclosure. This allows us to create our own light sources, perhaps a light show. This show could vary and change with different types and colors of light–spotlighting, uplighting, and downlighting with different colors and variation on intensity. This can be interesting, but it must fit with the idea of the designer. For an enclosure or a space within a space, this is a classic way to differentiate with the surroundings–lighting variation.
What if for the lighting, we want to have the enclosure be the lighting? How can light emanate from the structure? Does it glow? If so, maybe the water or air balloon structure above can light up like a toy or lantern. This choice ties the senses together through the design. However, we might want to explore other options, such as LED panels, or structural outlining with led strips similar to what we saw in the white city of the Columbian Exposition or many science fiction movies. This creates an otherworldly ambiance, allowing the structure to be like an alien craft landed in the middle of the station. Again, what is the intent of the designer?