Posts Tagged: Architecture



Dallenwil-Wiesenberg Cable Car

Dallenwil Cable CAr.

An historic photograph of the Dallenwil-Wiesenberg Cable Car. Image via

We often make the point around these parts that cable car infrastructure and architecture are two completely different things. Sure, the architecture is at least partly limited by the space requirements of the cable car infrastructure, but that’s about the extent of it.

I was reminded of that when I recently stumbled across the Dallenwil-Wiesenberg Cable Car in the Engleberg region of Switzerland. The system, which dates from 1934, is nothing more than an incredibly modest Aerial Tram. An old Aerial Tram, carrying only 24 pphpd along its 2,300 meters of length.

If you look closely at the image above, you’ll note the almost vernacular design of the carriage (to the extreme left) which reminds one of those classic Swiss cable cars we wrote about a while back. This is a system that oozes history with a base terminal that continues the tradition. It’s charming, old, and perfectly in keeping with the surrounding urban fabric.

The Dallenwil Cable Car, today. Image via

It’s easy to disregard cable car technology as “too futuristic” or not in sync with street level urbanism. But that’s misguided.

The Dallenwil-Wiesenberg Cable Car demonstrates that even what appears to be a modest old Swiss farmhouse can be used as a cable car station. We should consider its lessons when we look to integrate other systems into our future transit networks.

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Urban Gondola Infrastructure vs. Urban Gondola Architecture

The other week we talked about the difference between those features that are intrinsic to a transit technology and those things that are extrinsic. Intrinsic features are those things that make a technology what it is; they define it.

Extrinsic features, meanwhile, are those items and factors that affect the cost or operation of the system that uses the technology in question but are not dependent upon the technology itself. Extrinsic features may define a specific system, but often obscure the intrinsic qualities of the technology being used.

For example: Intrinsic to buses is the fact that they operate on rubber tires. Extrinsic to buses is what the bus stations look like and how they integrate with the surrounding traffic. The key here is to understand that intrinsic features are going to be standard across quantitative performance-cost measures (such as cost or maximum speed) whereas extrinsic features may cause different applications of the same technology to vary wildly in their performance-cost packages.

(Note for the transit geeks: Average speed is an extrinsic feature of any transit technology, not an intrinsic one.)

This got me thinking a lot about the issue of urban gondola station infrastructure and urban gondola architecture.

As we’ve seen in the past, the actual cost of installations (such as in Caracas and Koblenz) can vary widely due not to the technologies used but due to the station architecture, land expropriation and civil costs. This has caused wild swings in the price of systems (here and here for example) while the cost of the actual gondola technology has stayed relatively consistent over the years and across systems.

So remember: Gondola station infrastructure is intrinsic to the technology and it’s pretty hard to negotiate on price. If you need a station to do x, expect to pay y.

But also remember: Gondola station architecture is extrinsic to the technology and you can pretty much do whatever you want with it. You want to wrap a gondola station in a full-scale replica of the Taj Mahal? Go for it. But that’s going to cost you more than a pretty penny and that cost has absolutely, 100% nothing to do with the cost of the technology itself.

The perfect image to demonstrate this is an image I found on Alpinforum of the Eagle Express in Hasliberg, Switzerland. Take a look:

Image via Alpinform.

It’s a great image because it strips away all the confusion. All the (intrinsic) infrastructure is white and metallic whereas all the (extrinsic) architecture is wood and brown. Only one set of stuff here is needed for the system to operate. The other stuff is completely extrinsic and extraneous to the system’s cost and operations.

The stuff shaded in red is what you need.

So next time you’re confronted with a) the opportunity to design an urban gondola system or; b) a study or system that seems remarkably over or underpriced, ask yourself three questions:

Firstly, to what degree do extrinsic architectural features factor into the design? And secondly, are those extrinsic features needs or wants? And lastly, do any of those extrinsic features have an adverse effect on the performance-cost package of the system you’re designing?

That doesn’t apply just to gondolas either, but all public transit.

Endnote: No room for this idea in this post, but wouldn’t it be great if reports and studies (and the media that cover them) broke down – in easy-to-understand language – the extrinsic and intrinsic costs of public works projects? If the public could actually see what needs to be spent and what is being spent, perhaps a more intelligent dialogue on the project-to-be-built could be had. Maybe there should be a ratio for that? The E:I ratio? 

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Ten Fascinating (and Little Discussed) Urban Gondola Transit Stations

We talk a lot about station profile and architecture here at The Gondola Project. So I thought it might be fun to track down some little know systems that most of us have probably never even heard of (let alone seen).

As these are all systems with little publicly available information or research, we’re basically judging books by their covers. But it’s just for fun, right?

Not all are necessarily located in urban locations (in fact, most are not), but their individual qualities point to a myriad of ways to implement cable stations into a variety of different urban environments. Take a look:


St. Anton's Galzigbahn funitel is both futuristic and elegant at the same time. Most unique is the 'ferris wheel' loading mechanism that allows users to load at ground level - no stairs or elevators necessary! Image by flickr user Dionetian.

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Funivia del Renon

The Funivia del Renon, Bolzano Station, Public Domain Image

Probably one of the single biggest counter-points to urban cable systems is the stations. People are quick to argue that the stations are large, ugly and imposing. It’s a difficult point to argue with because most cable stations are just that: Large, ugly and imposing.

But then again, so are many of our traditional transit stations:

Kennedy Station, Toronto, Public Domain Image

The point, however, is that they don’t have to be.

Cable transit isn’t dependent upon large, ugly stations, they’ve just been designed that way for most of their history. In order to make in-roads in urban cable transit, the cable industry has a responsibility to begin designing stations with cities in mind, but cities also have a responsibility to imagine cable stations in new and beautiful ways.

Which brings me to the Funivia del Renon in Bolzano, Italy (pictured above).

The Funivia is not an urban system, specifically. It doesn’t carry a lot of people and it services a mountain resort. It is, however, a cable system whose terminus is located within a city. The design of that station is therefore very important for our purposes.

While I’ve never visited the system myself, this new system appears (at least on the surface) to blend in excellently with the surrounding urban fabric. The station has an excellent relationship to street level pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

Whether you like the architecture or not, it’s hard to deny that the station adds to the surrounding area, it does not detract from it.

I suspect it is the design of the stations – not the technology itself – that will make or break urban gondolas and urban cable transit. Thankfully, the cable industry seems to understand this and is working towards rectifying that problem.

The Funivia opened just recently in March of 2009, so there are few images and videos, but I managed to dig one up. Take a look:

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