Thought Experiment: Towers vs. Stations

Post by Steven Dale

Firstly, I’d just like to thank Nick and Julia for pitching in so much these last couple of weeks. I’ve had a hectic schedule of travel and I couldn’t have done it without them.

Secondly, I want to throw a question out there for our readers:

I recently got into a discussion with a project team about a specific urban gondola project. And of course, the question of aesthetics came into play – specifically about what to do about towers and stations.

A debate quickly ensued: One group of individuals was adamant that station architecture/infrastructure was the more important of the two design considerations and if a city needed to spend money on aesthetics, that money should be spent there.

The other group insisted that stations were a no-brainer and no worry. It’s the towers that are the bigger concern and that’s where the money should be spent.

Of course the most reasonable answer is that both tower and station design are incredibly important when integrating a gondola into an urban environment. But let’s play along.

A quick thought experiment:

You’re the mayor of a fictional city that intends to install an urban gondola system. The budget is tight and there is only so much money available for purely aesthetic concerns. Your team of consultants informs you that your budgetary situation basically means you can only spend “aesthetics” money on either tower or station design – not on both.

Which do you choose?

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Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.


  1. Matt the Engineer
    Stations. Simple, single-pole towers aren't ugly at all. But stations are what the riders touch and feel and see. Of course, politics will lean you toward making the towers fit what the local residents see as less-ugly (whatever that is). Since it's in their view, and they're the loudest at design reviews.
  2. Stations and here's why. Towers over time will blend in with the fabric similar to how utility poles do today. You physically know a utility pole is there but you consciously will remove it from your vision as you concentrate on more fluid matters that attract your attention. So unless you make it a point to look at the pole (possibly to avoid running into it) you won't really care that its there. So unless your tower is going to be flashing different neon colours at night you won't pay attention to it if your walking on the street. Now if you were to design stations to make them attractive places, people will be more inclined to visit, not only to use the gondola but to experience the station itself. Your stations can also be unique to its community/location where as your towers would be the same as one another. Let me ask you a question Steven - What would you prefer starring up at a Tower that looks sleek and new or riding a gondola into one of these http://ww1.prweb.com/prfiles/2012/01/15/9109853/Denver-Union-Station-Commuter-Platform.jpg (you can picture the gondola :) )
  3. Towers. Towers cannot be renovated or replaced without shutting down the line, and the aesthetics of having large towers the size of hydro transmission line towers as seen in ski resorts (not your wooden telephone poles) running down the core of a city isn't very appealing and could raise opposition from neighbourhoods groups that could block future lines. Stations can be renovated or redesigned and integrated into adjacent transit-oriented developments over time without shutting down the line. Presumably it is a transit agency that is building the line and not a developer looking to build an amusement park or shopping centre (i.e. the proponent is sticking to its mandate with public funds, and any future transit-oriented development can come from a third party private partnership). Also, a lack of aesthetics does not equate to a lack of functionality, so a utilitarian station (whcih may include limited retail) will function just fine without architectural flourishes.
  4. Stations. in a average urban line there's not need nor physical space for elaborate towers like the London ones. Yes, is already possible to have art-deco wrought iron towers, or tree-like natural form towers, but these will be more a disney plaster-mockup architecture than a serious one
  5. I say don't build it. If the city doesn't have enough money to beautify both, then there's no point in building it. Go big, or go home fellas!
  6. Fair enough. But that's not actually the question, now, is it?
  7. Why do interesting towers mean "plaster-mockup architecture?" Can't we have towers that are sculptural and serious at the same time?
  8. I probably shouldn't take one side or the other (as I'm the one who asked the question), but I have to admit - I'm leaning towards the tower side of the debate.
  9. Yes, but a common MGD tower for an urban line its approx. 12 to 25 metres for a line width of 4 metres. I like the actual tubular towers, they are a really good example of "form follows function" , to have something REALLY different BUT functional its not easy. On bigger dimensions something could really be done, as London shows I've seen enough of post-modern architecture where the form overwhelms the function. Lets never forget the "K.I.S.S." principle
  10. Was forgetting another important reason to choose stations : Towers would be relatively easy to change - a couple of days work, stations (apart from intervening just on exterior "cladding" ) wont.
  11. The most important part for have into account in a Urban transport are the USers(passengers) they will be constantly using and getting contact with the stations is the way that they get in and out of the system, for sure will be really interesting to have a good design of towers, but this design apart from generate a nice visual impact will not change that much to the comfort of the passenger, perhaps the people that can admire the towers will be the one's that are not travelling in the system. I like aesthetic design as they are planning in london ropeway but if is matter of choice I will say stations
  12. Matt the Engineer
    See, I'd say the opposite. Drop in off-the-shelf ski stations, single pole industrial towers, and save the rest of your money for the next gondola line.
  13. I would definitely spend my money on station design. While the tower does not certainly have to be a work of art, station should be somehow attractive for people. By the way, did you know that it was February 2, 1966 that the Grouse Mountain SkyRide officially opened to skiers? I guess it deserves mention...
  14. Agreed that form shouldn't overwhelm the function, but I think the towers have a much larger impact on the urban form - which has a direct impact on whether or not a system gets built.
  15. I've been thinking about this since I first read this piece a couple of weeks ago. I have to say my vote is for the stations in most instances. I love some of the examples of beautiful towers but if you are going for low profile towers (15-25 meters) then definitely the stations are were you put the money. The low profile station end up blending into the urban fabric much as other utility poles and they can't be seen from across the city. If however you need serious height (40 meters or more) and the towers are in an exposed position such as a major river or harbor crossing then at least make two anchoring towers that are most visible towers attractive. Think about the great bridges of the world like the Golden Gate Bridge or the Brooklyn Bridge and how they are instantly recognizable. If you have an opportunity to create a postcard worthy iconic look through attractive towers then do it. London is a great example of this. So that's my thought. Stations in most cases, towers where they can be iconic.

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