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Floating Canopy Defines Morocco HSR Station
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The canopy of the high-speed rail train station designed for Kenitra, Morocco, will be defined by a lacy “floating” canopy
The canopy of the high-speed rail train station designed for Kenitra, Morocco, will be defined by a lacy “floating” canopy that provides shade, water collection, and ample ventilation. © Silvio d’Ascia Architecture. All rights reserved

A design defined by a lacy “floating” canopy has been selected for the new high-speed rail station in Kenitra, Morocco.

April 1, 2014—High-speed rail (HSR) is coming to Morocco. And with the development of the new lines necessary to handle high-speed trains, new stations are also being developed—part of an overarching plan to modernize the country. One of these is the €30-million (U.S.$41.4-million) station in Kenitra. A port city located along the northern Atlantic Ocean, just south of the coastlines of Portugal and Spain, Kenitra is known for its hot, sunny climate. For this reason, the train station is defined by a lacy “floating” canopy that provides shade, water collection during seasonal rains, and ample means of ventilation from passing winds.

The design was created by the Paris-based firm Silvio d’Ascia Architecture and the Moroccan firm Omar Kobbité Architectes (OKA). Architects with OKA who worked on the project include Eric Giudice and Federico Mennella. Silvio d’Ascia Architecture’s team includes Silvio d’Ascia as well as Simone Aureli, Francesca Nicolosi, Giulia Perino, Soulayma Saya, and Matthew Hart.

The 10,000 m2 station will include common facilities for passengers and workers as well as 2,200 m2 for public and commercial spaces, including a pharmacy, restaurants, magazine and news kiosks, convenience stores, and a food court, according to Silvio d’Ascia, the founder and principal architect for Silvio d’Ascia Architecture, who wrote in response to written questions posed by Civil Engineering online. “The commercial spaces for the building are unique in that the majority of the spaces—more than 80 percent—are able to be accessed by city residents, and other persons not in transit,” said d’Ascia. 

Structural steel columns rise from the foundation to support the lightweight canopy

Structural steel columns rise from the foundation to support the
lightweight canopy. Station levels are “hung” from these steel
columns. © Silvio d’Ascia Architecture. All rights reserved

“The biggest challenge has no doubt been to incorporate what it means to design a train station in Morocco,” said Matthew Won Piker, the visual identity director of Silvio d’Ascia Architecture, who wrote in response to written questions posed by Civil Engineering online. “This is a country that treats its rail stations like airports—meaning, security is of the utmost importance,” Piker said. “Therefore, a considerable amount of thought has been taken into creating fluid transitions from ‘controlled’ to ‘noncontrolled’ zones.” The public commercial zones included in the design help in this regard, he noted, because they help create a natural security buffer zone.

From above, the train station appears visually as a large L; one leg contains public amenities and passenger services, the other is essentially a flyover bridge that crosses the track. Passenger entrances into secured areas are included on both sides of the station via the pedestrian bridge, and via a secured footbridge on the opposite side of the station.

“The length of the building was purposefully designed to consider ‘train integration’—its length is precisely that of a TGV train in a ‘simple engine’ configuration,” added Piker. “Thus, when trains enter the station, they are wholly within it, and their form adds to the overall architecture of the project.”  

The station’s canopy is an intricate triangular steel-grid framework that is sheathed in aluminum; it encases the interior volumes of the station and appears to float above the ground, covering the interior while providing fresh air circulation points. “The overall concept for the design recalls vernacular forms found in traditional Moroccan architecture, specifically through the use of a geometrical grid system,” Piker said. “This system not only allows for interesting and unique volumes within the station, but it serves as a shading device to protect from direct sunlight exposure.”

The station’s canopy is an intricate triangular steel-grid framework that is sheathed in aluminum

The station’s canopy is an intricate triangular steel-grid framework
that is sheathed in aluminum. Its design recalls vernacular forms
found in traditional Moroccan architecture. © Silvio d’Ascia
Architecture. All rights reserved

Structurally, the canopy “acts as a sort of dynamic counterweight,” said d’Ascia. “[In] two areas the canopy either extends out over the platforms or ground below, or folds to mark the station boundary.” The design team is currently studying these two elements so that they can be counterbalanced. “The canopy is not only a lightweight framework, it is also a feat of engineering in terms of cantilever design,” d’Ascia said.

The winning station design, selected by a jury that included the station’s client, the Office National des Chemins de Fer (ONCF, the National Railways Office), is currently undergoing further detailing, but the structural system currently includes three main components, d’Ascia said.  

The foundation is conceived to serve as a structural mat, according to d’Ascia, even though it actually comprises several underground floors designed to house mechanical, storage, and sorting rooms. This area relies on reinforced-concrete bearing walls so that the entire underground structure can behave as a foundation for the aboveground elements. Above ground, three rows of structural steel columns rise from this foundation, supporting the lightweight, latticelike canopy as well as several rows of rooftop photovoltaic panels, d’Ascia said.

The mid-height, intermediary station levels are “hung” from these steel columns, according to d’Ascia. “The intermediate levels seemingly hover in the open space; this allows us to create a kind of urban gallery underneath the canopy structure,” he said. “As these spaces are primarily for public circulation and commercial functions, the station will have a quite lively atmosphere.”

From above, the train station appears visually as a large L; one leg contains public amenities and passenger services, the other is essentially a flyover bridge that crosses the tracks

From above, the train station appears visually as a large L; one
leg contains public amenities and passenger services, the other
is essentially a flyover bridge that crosses the tracks.
© Silvio d’Ascia Architecture. All rights reserved

As additional detail design work is completed, he said, “We are currently investigating the best solution for the columns that support the metal canopy and commercial bays.” Reinforced concrete is currently being studied as a potential option, although the initial plan is to use structural steel.

“I would like for the structure to appear as thin as possible—almost as if the canopy were hovering, but we of course have to work within the seismic norms of the region,” d’Ascia explained.

The station will be part of a new 350 km long HSR line that would begin north of Kenitra, in Tangier, and extend south to the city of Rabat and on to Casablanca, according to the website Global Mass Transit, which tracks data on mass transit lines around the globe. Double-decker trains will operate at speeds as high as 320 km/hr, decreasing travel times between Tangier and Casablanca from almost four and a half hours to just more than two hours. The project will not only speed passenger travel but also reduce traffic on existing rail lines in the region, which currently carry both freight and passenger trains. The $4-billion project is expected to carry more than 10 million passengers a year.

Once this line has been completed the country hopes to extend it in two directions, for a total of 1,500 of HSR by 2030. The full line would run south of Casablanca through Marakech and on to the city of Agadir, and east of Rabat through Fes to Oujda.

Detailed design work on the Kenitra station is expected to be complete by later this year, with the station expected to open in 2017.


 

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