The tiny Austrian village of Krumbach, near the edge of the Alps, sits in an area that is known for architecture—not just traditional castles and fairy tale alpine cottages, but also for cutting-edge, sustainable Passivhaus designs and Bauhaus-inspired buildings. Now it can also take credit for helping reinvent a design that usually gets no attention at all: the bus stop.
“Bus stops are the kind of everyday objects that we often pass without noticing, and we've long accepted the way they look,” say organizers from Kultur Krumbach, the association that helped the bus stop project happen. “That gives the seemingly simple task of redesigning these structures possibilities unimaginable opportunities. They're not just functional transportation facilities, and protection from the elements, but they can make visual landmarks, sculptures, terraces, and even become public living rooms.”
The project was also a quirky ode to public transportation. Though Krumbach only has about 1,000 residents, it has a bus service that runs regularly on the hour, and the town wanted to celebrate the service as an example of rural mobility that doesn't rely solely on cars.
Seven international architecture firms participated in the project, drawn by the oddity of the challenge and the promise of a free vacation in the area. Each was chosen because they offer a distant point of view, coming from Russia, Norway, Belgium, Spain, Chile, Japan, and China.
"With this project we are using an apparently minor design task to make comparisons between different vocabularies and schools of thought, between East and West, North and South," says Tamara Bechter, who works at Kultur Krumbach.
The architects visited Krumbach for three days last year, meeting with the local craftspeople who eventually constructed their designs this spring. The results each look completely different, including an abstract mountain welded out of steel, an interpretation of a local living room, and a variation on a camera obscura. One stop, which happens to be next to a tennis court, includes a built-in spectator stand for games. Sou Fujimoto's bus stop—the least practical of the group—includes no roof and a staircase leading nowhere.
Here's hoping this inspires more interesting bus stops everywhere. To be fair, there are already some other good examples out there, like the musical swings at a bus stop in Montreal, or bus stop bookmobiles in Bogota, or even bus shelters in Detroit recycled from abandoned houses. But there are still plenty of boring benches ready for transformation, and in most suburbs—which arguably need the most help encouraging public transportation—there often aren't any shelters or benches at all.
[Images: © 2014 ADOLF BEREUTER]