How Wayfinding Can Help Revive an Aging Transportation Infrastructure

Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station is an exceptional example of some of the railroad industry's most ambitious construction projects. Opened in 1933, it is now not only an historical gem listed in the National Register of Historic Places, but continues to serve as one of the busiest transportation facilities in the country.

As a thriving intermodal transit hub, 30th Street Station serves Amtrak, SEPTA Regional Rail, and New Jersey Transit, not to mention numerous bus lines and subways as well as taxis and rental car companies. The station currently serves more than 4 million Amtrak passengers a year and in excess of 7 million SEPTA riders.

Rail travel is expected to increase by double digits in the next few years, continuing a trend that has been happening for the past decade or so. Like so many stations across America, Philadelphia’s 30th Street faced an imperative to update infrastructure and facilities to meet the demands of this growing demographic of riders. It was critical to increase access and improve circulation in and around the building.

Because the Station is on the National Register of Historic Places, however, any modifications—even desperately needed improvements—had to be done in a sensitive and sympathetic manner.

Updating the signage and wayfinding was of key importance. The previous system dated from the early 1980s and had become patchwork of mismatched, obsolete and dilapidated signs. The color scheme of gold text on a red field was difficult to read and didn’t meet the contrast recommendations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In 2009, C&VE was brought in to analyze the existing signage program and propose modifications and improvements. Working with a team of representatives from Baker Engineering, Amtrak, SEPTA, PennDOT and local civic and cultural groups, C&VE prepared a signage master plan. The plan analyzed current and future user demands: passenger flow, circulation paths, sight lines and viewing distances. It addressed the needs of rail, subway and bus passengers within the context of a 21st century intermodal transit hub.

The project team also began considering the historical structure, a process that necessarily continued over the next four years, from the initial analysis and design, into the implementation and production of the new system. Existing signs were not original, and there was little information about wall conditions, building materials, and substrates. The bulk of this investigative work was field observation and forensic site work to determine actual conditions.

As historical and actual site conditions were determined, design work could adapt to meet the needs and requirements of the State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPO). C&VE developed and refined a system of sign forms, colors and nomenclature that were appropriate to the station, visually effective and subtly branded to reflect both Amtrak and SEPTA. After obtaining approvals from the Pennsylvania SHPO, the new sign program was put into production in 2013.

Within the station, the new colors and typography increased readability and legibility and makes the station more responsive to the wayfinding needs of passengers. For added value, the colors and typography serve a dual function in that they brand the building as an Amtrak facility.

Sign shapes and forms speak to the Station’s historic architectural vocabulary. The addition of icons and symbols accommodates non-English speakers. Additionally, the project was subject to the strict limitations of working within a building listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the watchful oversight of Pennsylvania’s SHPO.

And, for the first time in its 83-year history, the station finally got the proper name signs it lacked for decades. An exciting addition to the station was two sets of monumental letters spelling out its name, “30th Street Station.” The station had always been unmarked, with no sign to display its name. And as a protected historic structure, nothing could be attached to the original fabric of the building. Calori & Vanden-Eynden’s solution was to place monumental letterforms adjacent to both major entrances, providing identification on a scale befitting the building’s grandeur while preserving its historical fabric.

Inside its walls, sign forms reflect architectural details. Fluted cladding references the station's art deco columns and pilasters. Metallic gold paint adorns sign fixtures attached to walls and ceilings. Suspended pieces speak to the details of light fixtures and pendant signs.

Functionally, new directory maps provide passengers with information about the station and the surrounding neighborhood. All existing signs were updated with new colors, typography, symbols and messages. New color combinations significantly improved contrast and readability.

A large directional near the west side of the station reinforces the north/south circulation path of SEPTA riders. Its magnitude allows it to be seen by passengers arriving on the opposite end of the station. It also acts in counterpoint to Walker Hancock’s 40-ft. tall sculpture Angel of Resurrection, to the east. The sign has already become a gathering and meeting place within the station and an orientation device unto itself.

Improving the travel experience for rail passengers up and down the east coast is critical to the region’s economy. With air and automobile travel becoming more of an endurance sport travel by train is quickly becoming the mode of choice for a growing number of people. Making connections easier for business and leisure travelers improves productivity and efficiency, both of which contribute to the economic viability of cities up and down the North East Corridor. All of which makes the region attractive to businesses, residents, and tourists.


Client: National Railroad Passenger Corp. / Amtrak

Sponsor: Pennsylvania Department of Transportation

Location: Philadelphia

Design: Calori & Vanden-Eynden / Design Consultants

Design Team: David Vanden-Eynden (principal in charge); Chris Calori (advisory principal); Kisuh Chung, Charles Goodwin, Alex Herman, Jessica Schrader, Justin Traylor, Grace Wu (design team)

Consultants/Collaborators: Michael Baker International (project coordination), Amtrak Engineering (structural review), Pennsylvania State Historical Preservation Office (historical review)

Fabrication: Bunting Graphics (primary sign contractor), L&H Companies (sign contractor), Stone Trade (stone supplier), Gemini Sign Products (etching_

Photos: John Bartelstone

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