Posts Tagged: Stations



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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Thought Experiment: Towers vs. Stations

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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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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