In the 1920s, visitors to the Adelaide Railway Station were ushered through wide open entrances, promoting a feeling of space and accessibility. The experience was one of arrival and occasion, as pedestrians moved freely from the bustle of North Terrace into the cool, cavernous sanctum of the station.
Now there is a plan to bring that welcome experience back.
Inspired by the station’s rich heritage, Paul Harrison and the team at Buchan Group have created stunning new designs for the station’s two North Terrace entrances that draw on the neoclassical features of the station's architecture.
“Our aim was to remove barriers—such as the non-original, automated doors at the main entrance—to create free-flowing, enlivened passageways that echoed the design intent of the building when it was first built in 1928,” says Paul.
“We are effectively going back in time so we can take the station forward in a contemporary new light.”
New tilt-up doors for both entrances
Buchan’s design will see the installation of large tilt-up doors at both entrances that feature fluted and rippled glass in the art deco style, which dominated architecture and design during the station’s heyday.
“A signature feature of the new doors will be a refreshed take on the steel, cross-pattern fretwork that is such a beautiful and predominant characteristic of the concourse,” Paul says.
“By bringing this internal fretwork detail out onto street level, we are continuing the architectural intent of the building and creating a harmonious transition between the inside and the outside of the station.”
According to Paul, one of the critical factors in designing for an existing heritage building such as the station is being sympathetic to, but not simply replicating, the building’s inherent style and fabric.
“The tilt-up doors will enhance the existing character and beauty of the station, but also become a fresh part of the station’s 90-year-old story, for which we have great admiration,” Paul says.
The tilt-up doors will be in the ‘up’ position whenever the station is open, enabling unimpeded pedestrian access and providing a sense of expansiveness and welcome.
Paul and his team have designed the doors with this specific outcome in mind, ensuring that they make an equally striking impression in their elevated position as in their lowered position.
“In this way the doors had to work on two levels, and this presented us with a design challenge that encouraged us to think both laterally and creatively,” says Paul.
“In response, we’ve made sure that when the doors are raised, their bold geometric patterning reflects and enhances the pressed-metal canopy above them, creating a beautiful symmetrical gateway for passer-bys below.”
Enhancing the station’s appeal on North Terrace
In addition to the large-scale tilt-up doors, Paul has overseen other design elements that will enhance the visual appeal and art deco theme of the station frontage along North Terrace. These include the construction of new steel-framed windows and doors to the fire escape and lift lobby, featuring the same fluted glass and heritage fretwork detail as the main tilt-up doors.
As part of this renovation the entry to the station ramp will be uplifted, creating clean, sharp lines and improving the overall aesthetic of the building and clear lines of sight from the street to the inside of the station.
This creative direction aligns with William Alfred Webb’s original vision for the station when he first conceived it as Chief Railways Commissioner in 1923. His desire then was to create “an imposing edifice, with a fine front to North Terrace”, one that epitomised “freedom from disorder and confusion” while inviting “movement of foot traffic along natural and direct channels.” 
Paul and the team at Buchan grabbed the opportunity to be a part of the station’s re-birth with both hands. The firm has been deeply embedded in the iconic Adelaide Riverbank precinct for many years through their design work for Madame Hanoi and areas within the existing Adelaide Casino. More recently, Buchan has come on board as the architects responsible for the Adelaide Casino expansion.
“We’re seeing the reinterpretation of railway stations worldwide, and it’s marvellous to see Adelaide embrace this trend and re-energise such an exemplary part of its historic cityscape,” Paul says.
“The work we do now will not only change the way the station functions and looks, but also change the way we interact and feel about the station, leaving a lasting legacy for all South Australians.”
The broader railway station revitalisation program
The North Terrace enhancement project is part of a larger revitalisation program underway at Adelaide Railway Station that will see heritage facades restored, architectural lighting installed, retail outlets expanded and the station ramp remodelled over the course of three years.
Renewal SA General Manager, Major Projects and Pipeline Tony Cole says the Adelaide Railway Station rejuvenation program is a $12.4 million state government investment, which will support approximately 55 full-time jobs over its construction phase.
"The program of works will restore and enhance this iconic building’s heritage features and enrich the experience for commuters and visitors alike by improving pedestrian flows and increasing the amount, variety and quality of retail offerings," Tony says.
"The aim is to re-establish the Adelaide Railway Station as a destination in its own right—a place that people will again plan to visit and enjoy rather than simply passing through."
The next chapter of project works, which started last week, involves upgrading the footpath along the front of the station on North Terrace, and the demolition of two non-heritage vacant tenancies at the top of the entrance ramp as part of the broader upper ramp restoration works. These works will be completed by early 2021.