Back on track

Nick Myall
27 Aug 2015

Ross Barney Architects, have created a light-filled and weather-protecting tube to cover a Chicago railway station

The Cermak-McCormick Place station, completed in 2015, serves the country’s largest convention centre and a stretch of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Green Line that has been without a station since 1978. The design by Ross Barney Architects, a light-filled and weather-protecting tube covering the platform, provides an attractive and joyful experience for riders and those passing by. It is the result of creatively working within constraints: short construction schedule, modest budget, and no suspension of service. Tracks could also not be moved, as a result, platforms approximately 15 feet wide would have to serve trains in a community with anticipated population growth and transit use. In addition, the client wanted the station to serve as an iconic gateway to a high number of first-time visitors to Chicago. 

The design solution for the station was the development of a tube over Cermak Road, where the CTA right-of-way (ROW) is both widest and most visible to the public. Locating train berthing over Cermak Road allows views to Chinatown, McCormick Place, and Chicago’s skyline/ loop. The perforated stainless steel and polycarbonate tube performs multiple duties: it provides wind and rain protection and a barrier-free platform; it places materials out of easy reach of vandals; and it creates a station easy to identify from a distance. 

The polycarbonate and perforated stainless steel provides light, directs views, and subtly reminds passengers of the direction of travel.  Translucent polycarbonate is installed directly over the platform, while perforated stainless steel panels line the sides of the tube.  Four perforation patterns are used, none of them with more than a 23% open area. Counter-intuitively, perforated materials deflect air if the percentage of “open area” is low.  The open area percentages used at the station is effective for usual wind speeds in Chicago.  Perforations on any given panel were either 1/8” or 1/4” in diameter.  In general, perforation sizes and densities are arranged to maximize views over Cermak Road and to protect from prevailing winter winds.  Additionally, a “swirling” overall pattern, created from the varying perforation sizes and densities visually echoes the movement of the trains.

Glass, polycarbonate, and perforated stainless steel are used to maximize visibility, views, and natural light in the station houses and on the platform.  For ease of maintenance and durability, glazed masonry units and granite are used for the interior walls and floors. 

CLIENT: City of Chicago Department of Transportation
ARCHITECT:Ross Barney Architects
PHOTOGRAPHY: Kate Joyce Studios

Nick Myall

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