Design Considerations

and Assumptions

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5a. Design Requirements

Through the competitive design process, Network Rail wishes to explore and interrogate the best means for how time is displayed and communicated in the 21st Century across the UK national rail network and associated built environment estate.

The notion of circularity of time and its conventional expression in time-keeping devices with circular clock faces, dials and hands remains deep-seated today, despite the advent of electro-mechanical flip clocks (and later LED/LCD equivalents) from the 1960’s onwards. In an age where children may increasingly not be taught to read and understand time in a circular fashion, is the conventional geometric projection still the most appropriate form for time-keeping devices? Through the design process, Competitors should hence seek to appraise the role of timekeeping within the railway environment, the circularity of time and whether the human-centric, round analogue clock face should be retained within people’s consciousness and experience? For example, at the platform scale, have digital information boards superceded the requirement for separate clocks?

As well as time-telling devices, previous generations of railway clocks have variously served as important elements of place making, orienting devices, social gathering points and the focus for congregation, as well as being pieces of design and architecture in their own right, and/or decorative items. It is envisaged that the new time-keeping device(s) will similarly need to perform a variety of different functions and could potentially be deployed at different scales, formats and conditions across the UK rail network and train stations of today and in the future. These uses could potentially include, but not be limited to:

  • the tower and other elements of the new generation of small- to medium-sized modular stations
  • locations where there are otherwise minimal station facilities
  • exterior settings including station walls, platforms, maintenance depots etc.
  • interior settings including concourses, ticket offices, waiting areas and back-of-house facilities
  • main and historic station environments

The breadth of scenarios across which the design may eventually need to be applicable are illustrated in the representative examples given in Figure 3 and the Timepiece compendium.

The Competition is seeking inspired and unexpected ‘genius’ ideas that will be transformative and cost-effective to implement at scale. In developing their concept proposals, Competitors will be expected to embrace Network Rail’s Principles of Good Design, as well as addressing the essential requirements and desirable attributes for the new ‘timekeeper’ provision.

  • Essential requirements:

    • The timepieces’ primary function is to display time clearly, legibly, and accurately in a way that everyone can intuitively understand immediately, aiding train performance. Timepieces should offer the utility of having time readily displayed without having to refer to a watch or mobile phone, which can be of particular benefit when travelling with young children or laden down with luggage.

    • The approach should present a unified identity and design language for how time is kept and marked across the entire UK national rail network. The design should also serve to promote the national expression of Network Rail and ultimately, Great British Railways.

    • The design should be durable, and whilst expressive of the 21st Century, long-lasting in terms of the idea, aesthetic components and materiality. Concepts should be inventive, elegant and should not date.

    • The design approach should have in-built scalability and adaptability to reflect the range of uses and circumstances across which the timepieces may eventually be deployed. It should also have the potential to accommodate future changes in technology.

  • Desirable attributes and other design considerations:

    • The cultural resonance of the piece and how it reflects our time, whilst encompassing the last and next 200 years of the railways in Great Britain. In doing so, the design could seek to provide an expression of national character, but without resorting to nationalism.

    • The visual expressiveness of the design and how the approach might contribute to the revival of the golden era of rail travel and make railway stations exciting places to inhabit again. The designs should seek to produce an uplifting experience for everyone including passengers, staff, passers-by and people living or working in proximity to the railway.

    • Consideration of how sound or other elements could be integrated to make the timepieces accessible to the widest range of people possible.

    • The potential incorporation of interactive, experiential or playful elements as a means of “passing time” and/or powering the timepieces could be explored and considered.
    • The promotion of train travel as a sustainable mode of transport, that is safe, reliable, punctual and an integral part of a sound environmental future for the planet.

    • Although a stylised version of the timekeeper provision could feature on the periphery of future platform information display boards, it is not in itself envisaged as a replacement for them.

5b. Phase 1 Guidance and Assumptions

The breadth and ambition of the overarching Brief is recognised. To assist Competitors, some guidance and basic assumptions are given below in terms of the focus for Phase 1 of the Competition.

  • The Phase 1 submission should outline the overall vision and big idea, the concept for the display and communication of time across the UK National rail network and associated built environment estate.

  • The submission should outline deployment of timepieces at/within the new generation of small- to medium-sized modular railway stations, and particularly within its tower component (see technical parameter summary at Figure 5).

However, future deployment of the timepieces is not envisaged as just being restricted to this new generation of modular stations nor to passenger-facing areas. The design language developed should therefore be inherently scalable and adaptable to offer potential for further exploration of families of ideas at Phase 2. Demonstration of wider future applicability should therefore also be provided accordingly.

5c. Considerations for Short-listed Concept Development at Phase 2

Network Rail will be seeking inspiring ideas to take forward to the second, design development phase of the Competition and beyond. It is anticipated that Phase 2 will involve, but not necessarily be limited to, Short-listed Competitors’ consideration of the requirements outlined below.

  • Response to general and proposal-specific feedback on the Phase 1 submitted material.

  • The design ideas will need to be capable of being applied in different situations, contextual settings and locations. Consideration will need to be given to the ready transferability of the proposals and their ability to work equally well at different scales and proportions. Whilst versatile in application and capable of translation into different geometries, there should be a consistent design language so that there is a clear familial relationship across different formats. The design language will also need to be strong enough to remain recognisable even if executed in different ways in the future.

  • Demonstration of the design’s potential for future deployment and integration across Network Rail’s highly varied estate of existing stations, depots and offices, and/or or as replacements to existing devices.

  • Whilst seeking a unified approach, the proposals should explore whether the design could be customised in an easy and cost-effective manner to reflect place and a station’s location within the British Isles. However, Network Rail will not in this respect be seeking different timepiece designs for the constituent nations or regions.

  • A more detailed exploration and demonstration of how sound (as distinct from language) and other elements could be integrated to make the timepieces more accessible to people with visual and other disabilities.

  • To address the fundamental issue of how the timepieces will be powered and their energy consumption. The trend in recent years to replace dot-matrix information displays with more energy intensive high-definition screens feels like a retrogressive step given the climate emergency. Innovative proposals for powering the timepieces will be welcomed and should demonstrate a positive contribution to the UK’s legally binding net zero emissions targets.

  • Ensure that timepieces can operate 24/7, 365 days a year with minimal maintenance. Simple, reliable, tried and tested systems and technologies should therefore be utilised by way of preference.

  • Consider how the timepieces can be produced and manufactured cost-effectively and in numbers, whilst being robust and having a design life of twenty-five (25) years or greater. Materials should be specified that will age well - particularly where the timepieces will be located outside and exposed to the elements.

  • Ensure that the timepieces will be easy to install and require minimal cleaning and maintenance over their lifespan given their deployment in close proximity to the operational railway. Where required, the timepieces should be easy to replace to similarly minimise potential disruption to train services.

Short-listed Competitors will be encouraged to broaden their team to include wider expertise, and/or seek advice from consultants from other disciplines, in order to respond to the more technical requirements of Phase 2. Successful approaches will demonstrate how good, integrated design can be deployed in different formats, scales and settings whilst maintaining a clear familial identity.

Figure 5

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Figure 5