Since 1934, 30th Street Station has served as the principal rail gateway to Philadelphia. Over the years, its restrained classical style, immense scale, and location along the west center city riverfront made it an important city landmark. Not only does the station connect Philadelphia to other major cities via train, it also connects with the local city neighborhoods, suburbs, and airport by a network of commuter and subway lines. As the largest and second most active railway station in the country, over 20,000 commuters passthrough its Main Concourse each day.
But before a restoration effort that is still taking place today, the ravages of time had taken its toll on the venerable structure. The building suffered physical deterioration from wear and inappropriate alterations, and the lack of a modern building system and standard public amenities took some of the luster from the station. Moreover, the increasing popularity of intercity air travel had lessened its importance.
After several short-term restoration efforts in the early 80s, Amtrak, which owns the station and operates its inter-city trains, entered into a unique arrangement with a private development group to rehabilitate the station in its entirety and revitalize the commercial role that it once played in the city.
A program for the use of the spaces at the station was developed by the Philadelphia architecture firm of Dan Peter Kopple & Associates (DPK&A). The goal of the project was to restore the station to function primarily as a train station--not as a "retail mall with trains in it."
"When they originally planned to develop the station in 1909, railroads were monumental," says Dan Peter Kopple. "They were the only way people traveled, so they wanted a grand station and a grand boulevard leading to it. It was part of a major plan by the Pennsylvania Railroad to essentially eliminate the need for trains to come into the station in the center of the city and then back out. Union Station in Washington, DC, is still that way.
"The restoration project came about because it was seen as a first step for all of the railroad property and the yard, which was adjacent to the central business district and the University City area just west of the station," Kopple continues. "It is a very important place in the city, highly visible."
DPK&A examined ways in which contemporary functions and systems would fit into elements of the station's original plan, and they developed a design strategy to limit obvious contemporary interventions. Besides rehabilitating the Main Concourse, the firm provided space planning, design, working drawings, and construction period services for 250,000 sq. ft. (22,500 sq. m) of modern, open landscape, Class A office, and special function space within the historic building envelope.
Additionally, the space houses over 1,200 Amtrak employees with a broad spectrum of administrative, engineering, data processing, and personnel functions. The development project included restoration of all the public spaces, retail area development, wayfinding and passenger information systems, a Metro Lounge to serve Amtrak's first-class passengers, and post-fire services during the aftermath of a six-alarm fire.
Without compromising its historic character, the architects designed contemporary but largely concealed lighting systems to enhance the architectural character of the building. Original lighting fixtures were restored to contemporary standards and relamped to generate illumination "that balances energy efficiency with warmth and aesthetic quality," Kopple says.
Moreover, an exterior lighting design established the station as a landmark in the nighttime cityscape. "In addition to restoring the building, we had to develop a night lighting program for the station," Kopple says. "Because of its relation to the Philadelphia Art Museum to the north and City Hall to the east, the station had tied down a great triangle in the heart of the city. It could be viewed from the park and from major roadways."
The lighting designer for the project was Al Borden, who had previously been senior LD at Kling-Lindquist, Inc., and is now president of The Lighting Practice, Inc. When designing the lighting for 30th Street Station, Borden explains that there were two primary goals that were considered. "The area around the building and the station itself had become run down, and the developers and the people in the city felt that by doing this restoration and by lighting up the station, they could create a more attractive environment--a more visual magnet," he says. "Equally important,the architecture of the station is very strong. We wanted to light it in a way t hat displays the beauty of the building."
For the interior lighting, Borden explained that components such as lanterns and chandeliers were restored by Central Brass Works. "We enhanced the lighting to make it appear that the light was produced by the lanterns, when actually the light received support from concealed sources. It was a theatrical approach; it makes it seem like the glowing lanterns provide all the light."
The Main Concourse, where the trains arrive, is the largest area in the station, says Borden. "The space has a 100' (30m) ceiling. We wanted to make it feel like it was filled with light." He explains that vertical elements such as columns and posts form the skeletal structure of the room. The vertical elements are "supported by an incredible gilded and painted ceiling. We used some uplight hidden inside track markers to skim the light up the columns and elements of the ceiling. Large hanging chandeliers integrate uplight lamps so that they give a warm glow. Most of the illumination is provided by a series of downlights--four at each chandelier. It is very soft and spreads the light gently on the floor." These chandeliers are fitted with Osram Sylvania incandescent fluorescent and compact fluorescent lamps; interior downlighting is provided by metal-halide Kurt Versen fixtures with 3000K lamps.
Borden stressed that the intent of the lighting design was only to expand upon the original design. "If the technology was available, we believe the original designers would have done similar things. What we were able to do was take the image they conceived of this large space with glowing chandeliers and accent its verticality."
For the exterior lighting, the same guidelines were adhered to. "Again, the idea was that we didn't do anything that changed the architecture," says Borden. "The intent was to create a pedestrian space." After the exterior lighting fixtures were installed, the floodlights were carefully adjusted to maximize their efficiency. Communication took place via handheld radios, with spotters standing miles away to convey how effective the lighting direction was.
The LD explains that before the restoration, the exterior of the building featured several kinds of lanterns and posts. "Over time, they had been changed, removed, or replaced." Cobra lights, which are basically used for road lighting, had been left out in front. "Maybe that is decent for roads, but not for people space."
The outside portion of the restoration included adding 14'-high (4.3m) posts with Sterner metal-halide floodlights attached to them to light the building. In addition, some colored lighting was used. "Pale tints of warm colors were used to keep the coloration of the building the same at night as it is during the day," says Borden.
Borden also points out that the system is relatively simple to operate and is readily accessible for maintenance. "It's in fine shape. They relamp regularly, and maintain the luminaire focusing."
Additional work at 30th Street Station has included enhancing the public transportation amenities in the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) portion of the facility, restoring the facilities for suburban rail passengers, and improving conditions for SEPTA operations and maintenance. The restoration, modernization, and rehabilitation were accomplished while the station, which now lights the way to the city, continued to serve thousands of passengers.
Jennifer Adams and Michael Reis are New Jersey-based writers specializing in architecture and design.