What is it about childhood awareness that creates such an indelible imprint on our sense of place?
As an eight year old arriving at Waverley Station in Edinburgh – en route to visit my Grandmother – I can still clearly recall walking in wonder up the ramp-way from its dark underbelly and out into the bright daylight to confront this eccentric city.
Its famous gardens present an idyllic pastoral green gateway to the city; rising from it the rough crags of the Castle rock, the bright glare of shop windows on Princess Street jostling alongside Gothic spires and Greek classic temples, all contributed to the visual spectacle.
It left an enduring impression.
Today, I’m sitting on a train with my partner heading towards Glasgow and we’re discussing – not the journey or its purpose – but how we are going to feel about arriving back at the point of our departure later in the day. Waverley Station!
As we collected our tickets in the main concourse this morning, we were assailed by an endless array of scaffolding, walls of plastic, safety cones and zoned off walkways as the station undergoes a lengthy and seemingly endless building modernisation programme to its roof, entrances and exits.
To put it mildly it’s a visual mess, at best an abstract clutter, and has been for many months.
Like many fellow train passengers, I enjoy the experience of travel for its own sake, however like it or not, we all have to arrive at some form of physical destination. Our arrival point sets the stage for our experience of a city, it anticipates our sense of what the city is about, its people, and the story it might tell.
A recent article describing how international airports are re-thinking their approach to passengers illuminates the need for a visually inspiring experience to the benefit of all.
It underlines my research – and the experience of countless millions of passengers who travel daily – that ‘arrival’ is an event which visionary design and creative planning can make a massive, positive and indelible impact on our collective awareness.
One of Edinburgh’s most famous sons, Robert Louis Stevenson, observed when returning to his city in 1879; “…the valley wears a surprising air of festival …it is what Paris ought to be. It has the scenic quality that would best set off a life of unthinking, open-air diversion. It was meant by nature for the realization of the society of comic operas.”
Perhaps, when the station roof is restored and light floods into the station, many hundreds of thousands of visitors – including wide eyed children – will flood up and out through Waverley to enjoy this fascinating scene of contrasts.