In the glory days of rail travel, train stations were often grand architectural conceits. And not just high-profile destinations such as London’s St Pancras, Manhattan’s Grand Central or Melbourne’s Flinders Street: even humble suburban and regional railway stations, and associated infrastructure such as signal boxes, were among the most splendid of public buildings.
Western Australia’s industrial port city of Kwinana, 38 kilometres south of Perth, is the location for a striking new rail training facility built for the WA Public Transport Authority. Austral Bricks Burlesque high-gloss bricks played a pivotal role in bringing an architectural presence to what could easily have been a modest utilitarian building.
“Part of our pitch behind this building was that architecture and design have an important role to play in projecting an image and marketing an organisation to prospective employees and the community,” says architect Matthew Coniglio.
Although only a young partnership, Coniglio Ainsworth Architects has already made an impact, winning the small project category of the AIA 2012 National Awards for the Perth Cultural Centre amenities. Their work is in the public, residential and commercial arena and includes railway infrastructure.
The Kwinana Training Facility is located on a Public Transport Authority site, shared with a rail freight yard and adjacent to some of the heavy industry that is Kwinana’s lifeblood. It’s a dusty, windswept site but the new landscaping planted around the training facility will eventually soften that impact.
The southern half of the broad, single-level building is clad in pre-finished fibre-cement panels. This is the business end of the building, housing classrooms, an office and a technical room with links to a dedicated 300-metre section of rail track simulating a typical metro line with a level crossing and signalling.
The primary architectural impact is reserved for the northern half of the facility, its public face, which is clad in Austral Bricks Burlesque high-gloss bricks in the appropriately-named Chilling Black.
“The black is a very confident colour that stands its ground well,” Coniglio comments, adding “It was about making a strong statement without overdoing it.”
Amplifying the effect is the brickwork pattern chosen: stack bonding. Conventional brickwork is laid in a stretcher bond, that is, with alternate courses offset by a half brick. “The stack bond pattern reinforces the rectilinear form of that part of the building,” Coniglio considers.
Possibly the most dramatic element of this facade is the massive reveal spanning 76 brick widths or over 18 metres.And most surprising of all, the six courses of brickwork appear to have no visible mean of support. That’s quite an achievement!
The engineered solution is a structural steel fascia with angle steels top and bottom that acts like a large parallel flange channel, restraining the brickwork top and bottom and effectively clamping it into place.
The resulting broad reveal allows excellent northern light penetration into the building, assisted by clerestory windows that run above the west-east central corridor separating the two halves of the building. The northern section houses a lunchroom, toilets and breakout areas. The deep northern reveal can also accommodate external breakouts.
The northern elevation overlooks landscaping with low maintenance plantings that will help tame and beautify the dusty industrial environment.
The Kwinana Training Facility was completed in March 2013 and has reportedly been well received and is already achieving its design intentions.
As well as the Kwinana project, Coniglio Ainsworth Architects are the lead consultant for the Public Transport Authority on the new $25 million Butler railway station at the end of Perth’s northern suburbs line and are delivering a range of station upgrade projects for the Authority on their heritage lines.
Today’s train stations and railway infrastructure may not be the elaborate edifices of old. However the Kwinana training facility demonstrates once again that however humble the building, good design is an investment now and for the future.
Coniglio Ainsworth Architects
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Colour: Charming Black
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