John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Credit this architect for building a transportation hub that looks like it'd eat you alive.
You have to love Shahira Hammad for envisioning a train station where your principal concern wouldn't be getting there on time, but whether you could find your way out at all.
Hammad's proposal to revamp Vienna's staid Westbahnhof station draws heavily from natural processes like growth and entanglement: It looks like an immense rootball sprouted dozens of legs and started mating with a building. The structure is supported by thick, brown tendrils akin to mature poison-ivy vines. Peeking through these is an internal system of webs and membranes that appear to have been inspired by the thatched roofs of a shantytown, dimpled pig tripe and spindly rib cages.
The twisted exoskeleton penetrates the station's interior, too. Commuters would purchase tickets and scoot up escalators amid a dense thicket of earthy stalks and long, pokey things, for lack of a better phrase, in a unique configuration that I could easily see ensnaring a careless passerby. If ever a building could live by digesting the occasional inhabitant, Venus Flytrap-style, this would be it.
Hammad created these insane renderings for her thesis project at the University of Applied Arts, Vienna. She wanted to recreate nature's "spontaneous order," a term that describes the way biological entities organize themselves out of apparent chaos. So while this rail station looks like someone dripped candle wax all over it, there is a method to the madness.
It is, evidently, a reaction against excessive rationalism and rationalizations. Yes, it is excessive, but essentially it tries nothing else but to bring the complexities present in Nature into the urban fabric....
All in all this is an architectural meditation on Time as well, since the structures I envisioned do reflect metamorphosis, the passage of Time, change, ephemerality and even decay… themes, again, neglected by conventional architectures.
While there's virtually no chance in hell that this station will get built, much like that office tower based on an insect nest, it's a beautiful mess to behold. Long live visionary architecture!
All photos courtesy of Shahira Hammad.