Written by GQR / Image by Jakoz Idzie
In a world that was just beginning to step into the industrial revolution, the emergence of the steam engine in the 19th century was the game changer for transportation.
Around the same time, it seemed all the big shot names in architecture and design were receiving commissions to spruce up newly invented train stations—creating vast and inspiring spaces that hosted the constant comings and goings of people, commerce, travel, and more.
In this article, art meets architecture and goes on a double-date with transport and industry. It’s a match made in railway heaven. We’ve also put together a playlist to accompany you on this trip. So pop in your earphones and please enjoy.
Arrival – Antwerpen-Centraal Station, Antwerp Time – 15:55 UTC/GMT+1
We’re riding through green hills and then the train comes to a stop and the doors open. We look around and can’t decide if we’ve stopped at a cathedral, castle, or railway station. We step out on to the platform.
It’s lavish, it’s sophisticated. There are twenty different types of marble and stone decorating the waiting room. Weary-eyed tourists, don’t get confused with the turrets framing the dome, you have indeed stepped into the terminus.
Antwerpen-Centraal Station is filled with families, with couples, with everybody, all swooping through the station. They go from one stop to another, bathing in light pouring from skylights.
We reach the upper train platform, where the iron-and-glass roof encloses us within the station. For a moment, the crowd trickles out, and a dandy walrus stumbles across the marble floors.
Except, it isn’t a walrus. It’s Louis Delacenserie—architect and designer of this elaborate station. Don’t let his handlebar moustache put you off. He looks around the stone-clad building he designed. Does he know there are new tunnels underneath his beloved station? A necessary addition to accommodate the traffic and high-speed rail.
There’s a teenager munching on frites. Long, golden, crispy chips she’s bought from one of the stores inside the terminal. We leap towards the store when the train doors start closing and retreat just in time for them to shut.
Cursing our missed chance at eating frites, we roll onto our next destination.
Arrival – Constitucion Railway Station, Buenos Aires Time – 19:01 GMT-3
There were once big crates of prawns on ice being sold here—early morning markets just outside the station’s entrance, bustling crowds searching out fresh produce.
Fresh seafood long gone, the bustling crowds remain, in even greater numbers now, shoving and pushing through the station, grabbing a quick plastic-wrapped milanesa sandwich or a pack of smokes, before jumping onto the next train.
We hang about, grab a choripan from one of the mobile stands, maybe a few sandwiches de miga. Don’t worry, there’ll be a parade of vendors on the trains, moving from carriage to carriage, selling you food, drinks, CDs, pirate copies of the latest Hollywood blockbuster.
Over there is a foundation stone, laid by the Prince of Wales when he visited here almost 80 years ago. Over a hundred years before that, this site was once home to a hospital, which then turned into a marketplace, which then turned into the train station we currently stand in.
Jump forward through the later construction of the station as we see it now, a mix of neo-classical and Beaux Arts, with arched ceilings and its main hall—one of the largest in the world. The classical elements remain, now intermingled with the gigantic bright digital screen, displaying train times.
The development of the railroad was vital in modern architecture as an enabler of accelerating times, of traveling longer distances. It’s a symbol of progress and industrial development.
It’s getting dark now. Outside the station, there are bars and kiosks still buzzing with people. A few taxi drivers waiting around, a quick coffee and a smoke. We have time to step up to a kiosk. Pick out some grilled sandwiches.
The vibe changes outside Constitucion Railway Station, and suddenly our hands are gripping our bags and phones and wallets and hats. We don’t let go. Not until we’re running, heading back to the building. Plop down panting at the terminal, our stomachs churning, we shouldn’t have eaten so quickly and sprinted for safety.
But hey, what are you going to do? In the end, it’s the experience that matters.
Arrival – Komsomolskaya Station, Moscow Time – 7:03 GMT+3
This isn’t the palace of Catherine the Great, nor is it an elaborately designed government building. Those people around us aren’t the aristocracy, they’re commuters just like us.
Chandeliers hang through the station looking like something poached out of a ballroom. But this is the Moscow metro. From the granite floor, sixty-eight limestone-and-marble pillars rise. The ceilings are a robust royal yellow. There are murals dedicated to the triumph of Russia’s historic military.
It’s baroque meets metro—Joseph Stalin’s “palace for the people.” It’s remained as it is now since its completion in 1952.
We hear Mayakovskaya (named after the Futurist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky) received the same decorative treatment, with its mosaics decorating the ceilings. As did Ploschad Revolutsii with bronze statues of soldiers—another nod to the military. And Prospekt Mira, Kiyevskaya, Arbatskaya, and others.
We can’t spot a single smear of graffiti, not an inkling of vandalism. It’s the place to live out a fantasy—for a minute, a short minute, so brief, before that man with the briefcase bumps into us.