I didn’t want to say anything about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but I will say that I deeply approve of the use of the train station. Train stations are magical places: journeys begin and end there. When they were first built, lives ended and began there. Train stations are intersections of everyone’s world: your world with all the people around you; your old life with the new life awaiting at the end of your journey. With technology, the train station has largely been replaced in this role with the airport. Which is why it’s such a damn shame that, with the exception of the now abandoned TWA terminal at JFK airport, airport architecture is so utterly anonymous and boring.
The builders of train stations through the 19th and 20th century understood the importance of what they were doing. You can’t walk under the enormous, soaring arc of the roof of Paris’ Gare de Lyon without feeling something. You may say that a train station requires an enormous roof — you need something to fit the trains under — but there’s more to it than that. A train station does not require the main concourse of New York’s Grand Central station. Humans required that grandeur for a building this significant to their lives.
And this is why I’m so disappointed in airports. Books aren’t switching from train stations to airports because airports aren’t inspiring or significant. They look like low, bland, corporate office blocks. Full of bland, inoffensive corporate colours, with plenty of practical reusable furniture and rooms. As train travel becomes less and less common, we’re in danger of losing a whole raft of ideas and images. In 15 years time will a child reading Harry Potter who’s never been inside a train station really understand the significance? Will that chapter grab them? Do children reading now understand this? Architecture is not just about building the most practical, useful building for the cheapest price. Architecture is about shaping our world, and thus our culture and experiences.