Amtrak and HOK unveils design for new Washington Union Station

View from H Street – Courtesy of

A national landmark and one of the busiest multimodal transportation hubs in the country, Washington Union Station, designed by Daniel Burnham, is about to undergo some significant changes. The 1907 station is currently operating beyond capacity, serving 100,000 passenger trips per day on Amtrak and commuter trains, Metrorail and buses. Over the next 15 to 20 years, passengers are expected to triple and the number of trains will double, so change is necessary in order to accommodate this growth.

HOK, in collaboration with Amtrak and Parsons Brinckerhoff, have unveiled a plan to revitalize the station and bring it up to 21st century standards. Continue after the break for more.

Existing Washington Union Station © beautifulcataya

The plan positions Union Station as an integral part of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor investment plan by upgrading it to accommodate additional level of tracks, platforms and concourses below the existing track level. These changes will support increasing commuter and intercity rail service with room for future expansion of high-performance, high-speed rail.

Interior view of Train Shed – Courtesy of HOK

At the heart of the plan is a new train shed that will welcome passengers to the nation’s capital. HOK’s design brings natural light into the station and creates better connections to Amtrak, commuter rail, transit and other transportation services. The design integrates new passenger concourses with significant retail and passenger amenities and a series of new street entrances. Meanwhile, a planted, vegetated roof retains rainwater and tempers the interior environment.

Train Shed looking Southwest – Courtesy of HOK

“We wanted to design a train shed that supports movement and a vegetated roof visible from the street. The undulating green rooftops of the entrance recall the individual tracks below and dispel the impression that the north entrance is a back door,” said Bill Hellmuth, AIA, HOK’s DC-based president and design leader for the project. “The overall design underscores the inherent sustainability of mass transit.”

Central Concourse – Courtesy of HOK

Based on the master plan’s framework for phased construction over 15 to 20 years, the estimated cost for the station reconstruction and terminal capacity expansion ranges from $6.5 to $7.5 billion in 2012 dollars. It is estimated to generate a total of $14.3 billion ($2012) in regional economic benefit through direct construction expenditures and other related economic impact.

Escalators down to the Central Concourse – Courtesy of HOK

“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to secure the long-range transportation and economic future of the Washington region and the Northeast mega-region by equipping Union Station for its second century of outstanding service to the traveling public,” said Wayne Striker, AIA, a principal in HOK’s New York office. “By creating station and commercial development that is integrated with the surrounding neighborhoods and well-connected to the multimodal regional transportation system, Union Station will become an even greater regional destination.”

Reference: HOK, Amtrak
Washington Union Station images via Flickr users beautifulcataya and Ryan Keene, licensed through Creative Commons.

Cite: Rosenfield, Karissa. "Amtrak and HOK unveils design for new Washington Union Station" 16 Aug 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed 26 May 2015. <>
  • Andrew

    This looks like a bad first year studio project. I am inclined for the first time to write a letter to my congressman to prevent this from happening…

    • Burnham

      Why are the posters on archdaily so retarded?

    • connor covey

      What have you designed?

  • Kel

    I live a 10 minute drive (30 minute walk) from Union Station, and I used to commute through it daily. One of the things I love about that station is the early 1900s detailing. While the lower level mall and train areas definitely need to be renovated, the main building is beautiful. One of the mistakes in DC architecture these days is that the few architecturally significant buildings are being knocked down to make way for glass buildings that don’t speak to the history or culture of the District.
    I would like the new design if it weren’t replacing a building I feel a connection to.

  • Claude Armstrong

    After the break, I would like to see the relationship of this scheme with the existing landmark. Assuming it still exists.

  • Michael F.


    I’m going to go on the record and say, if it was my first year in studio, and I cranked out this level of rendering and knowledge of realistic glass structural systems, I’d feel pretty accomplished.

    That being said, there’s a LOT missing from this visual description. And with that recent article on Meier’s huge glass atrium in Phoenix, does anyone think this could become a glass oven?

  • Justin

    Way to glaze over the demolition of a landmark.

    Not to mention 100% glass buildings are not sustainable. In addition to people getting baked from the heat radiating from the glass walls, they’ll be deep fried from the sun blasting through the glass roof. The EUI will be off the charts if they want the space to be comfortable year round.

    Why can’t we just do an energy upgrade and rehab/renovate and expand the Burnham building?

    Very disappointing from a sustainability and historic perspective, not to mention the studio-project-from-10-years-ago design.

  • SDW

    Holy molly!
    Even renderings are not attractive! Looks like 80′s shopping center…

  • Walt

    “Landmark, you didn’t build that.”/sarc

  • Teddy

    Before you assume the entire landmark will be demolished, have a look at the links included in the text as opposed to just looking at photos and thinking you know the entire project…
    Even though I am not a huge fan of this design (very thin roof structures will not support green-roof design, open air train lines producing VERY warm air, and as some mentioned the heat from the entire glazing envelope) it has some interesting aspects in the Master Plan package. I travel through this station every other month and would be really disappointed if that original lobby was demolished. Glad to see the plan is to maintain the historic landmark.

  • Tienie van Rooyen

    Similar looking project proposal in Cape Town

    Sad that this tsunami if glass has to destroy the heritage building… bad sustainable practice.

  • Josh

    It is clear the individual(s) involved in this design have never been to Union Station. It is surprising that Amtrak and HOK have put their names on this.

  • eliana braga

    Existing Washington Union Station …please do not destroy it…

  • AT

    If you read the following article from the Washington Post. It is clear that the original Daniel Burnham building will remain.

    I think that their desire is to be reminiscent of train sheds at major european stations but with a more modern feel. That being said, I have no idea what undulating waves have to do with anything, either formally/theoretically or structurally/systematically. DC and Amtrak deserve better than this.

  • Tim Bacheller

    There is no doubt that Burnham’s Union Station will remain, so I’m not concerned with that. What I am concerned with is the reasoning behind the form and the purpose of green roofs. I feel that undulating waves being evocative of train tracks and platforms is rather weak, and green roofs are just pandering to the green crowds in the points game to gain platinum, gold, silver certification. Instead of a form that is mildly nostalgic and derivative, it should be something that is performative and something that strives to be the trailblazer of a new and improved American rail system that works well. Preserving the Burnham building reminds the public that rail travel used to be prevalent and common in the US. The new station should preserve that, but also promote public transportation considering our proliferation of highways, automobiles, rising fuel prices, and declining prosperity. We don’t need Gehry’s Bilbao effect, and we don’t need American corporate office architecture. We need an American architecture that creates tangible value, and something that promotes public transportation, economics and a new way of living. Burham was doing it in his time, but I’m extremely doubtful that HOK is appropriate for now. We need something that is not corporate and not tame. We need something from emerging architects, small offices, academics who are promoting American architecture, but who are snuffed out by a system that rejects new voices, rejects competitions, and rejects encouraging something new and innovative.