Back on Track

Outside and inside the ETFE-covered ARTIC station. A massive curtain wall floods the space with light and connects it to its surroundings.
Sam Lubell / AN

In early December the city of Anaheim cut the ribbon on ARTIC, the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center. The building’s significance cannot be understated: It is California’s first major foray into high-speed rail, and if all goes according to plan, it will eventually be one of the southern anchors for the system. In addition to housing high-speed rail facilities, the building, designed by HOK, with engineering by Thornton Tomasetti (Structural), Parsons Brinckerhoff (project manager and civil engineer), and BuroHappold (MEP), hosts regional rail, bus, automobile, and bicycles, not to mention shops and restaurants.

California High Speed Rail broke ground in Fresno a few weeks after ARTIC opened. The network is expected to eventually stretch 800 miles from Sacramento to San Diego and include 24 stations. Other major nodes are much further behind. Los Angeles is just beginning radical changes to Union Station, designed by Grimshaw and Gruen, and San Francisco is building Cesar Pelli’s Transbay Transit Center. Even Fresno is ramping up, hiring AECOM to study a station there. But car-dominated Anaheim insisted on being first. And ARTIC will likely set the tone for stations moving forward.

Courtesy City of Anaheim

The wide-open, multi-level station, which looks out at Anaheim’s Honda Center and the surrounding mountains, is topped with a diamond-gridded, 3-layered ETFE roof, and fronted by two of the largest self-supporting curtain walls in the world, each measuring about 120 feet tall.

The extruded arch structure— whose form was reportedly inspired by the area’s huge blimp hangars—is full of complex systems, and is aiming for a LEED Platinum rating. At its heart, it is a simple building: A large translucent tent arched over a stepped edifice, climbing its way toward the tracks. It is this simplicity that calls attention to the most important elements—light, space, and circulation. Being inside feels much like being outside, and the temperature feels perfect, not too hot, but not overwhelmed by air conditioning. Even when full of people (which hopefully it will continue to be after the opening), it does not feel too loud or crowded.

Sam Lubell / AN

The interior’s dramatic easiness is all the more important considering the concrete-dominated, shade-challenged landscape outside, which, while punctuated by rows of palm trees, is not as lush or welcoming as it could be. And because of alignment necessities, the station is far removed from its tracks, sucking some of the rail-inspired energy out of the project.

High Speed Rail has the potential to transform how Californians think about transportation, and to transform the state’s cities. But because ARTIC is located far from any notable urban center—the area is dominated by freeway interchanges and stadium parking lots—its significant architectural impact is more symbolic than practical.

But one cannot underestimate that impact. Approaching the station from the tracks, despite their lack of proximity, opens up a breathtaking, multi-story expanse below you. High-tech materials suggest the future, but in a natural, breezy way, not in the cold, generic one that many new airports and train station evoke. You are no longer thinking of the car-based atmosphere around you. You are thinking of how you can catch a train down here again. Hopefully thousands more will agree.

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