Raleigh, N.C., is a city in the midst of a powerful transformation. Regional growth and aging facilities recently spurred the development of a new multimodal transit center to accommodate increased train ridership, connect passengers to other modes of transportation, and replace an older Amtrak station that was one of the busiest in the Southeast region despite its lack of accessibility features and its location on the city’s outskirts. The resulting Raleigh Union Station, which opened in July 2018, showcases the adaptive reuse of an old warehouse in the heart of downtown Raleigh and is a key component of long-term plans to catalyze growth and revitalize this downtown Warehouse District.
Skanska USA’s Durham, N.C., location, in a joint venture with Raleigh-based Clancy & Theys Construction Co. and in association with Holt Brothers Construction, Raleigh, converted the abandoned industrial building—the Dillon Supply Co. warehouse—into a state-of-the-art, 43,000-square-foot urban transportation center that now houses passenger rail services, future commercial space, and indoor and outdoor civic space for special events.
The project’s architectural team from Raleigh-based Clearscapes envisioned the building as an industrial cathedral. Passengers enter the former warehouse’s towering main hall by passing under the railroad bridges designed by STV Engineers, Charlotte, N.C., to access the Terminal building. Awaiting their trains, passengers will be able to peruse shops or grab a bite at a potential eatery on the upper floor while enjoying a unique view of Raleigh’s skyline.
Adapting an existing building for an entirely new use presents challenges and opportunities. In the process of demolishing the old warehouse, the project team left the exposed steel frame structure in place, making a visual connection to the building’s history and providing an aesthetic framework for the station’s design. They reinforced the foundations to support the new building expansion and used the distinctive rust-colored steel as a design inspiration for the final look of the station. Matching the steel, a red oxide color was used throughout the building with black, gray and orange accents used on other elements.
The original concrete footings of the warehouse are visible coming out of the floor and the existing 40-foot sliding metal barn doors were kept in the final building design as visual elements. Salvaged metal from the exterior of the old warehouse was reused to create 36 4- by 6-foot metal panels that are artistic elements on the concourse wall. The canopy above the new exterior civic plaza is a cantilevered structure supported by four 37,000-pound columns, each constructed from four I-beams.
Two of the gantry cranes used in the Dillon Supply warehouse to lift pieces of steel off the factory floor and move them throughout the facility were retained in the new building and locked in place as unique design elements. A large clock has been hung from the gantry crane at the station’s west end.
While retaining the existing steel structure, the construction team had to extend a portion of the structure down one level to new lowered foundations to facilitate the building’s new function and match up to the new lower exterior elevation. This represented one of the unique and challenging aspects of the project. Creating a new lower entrance required the installation of temporary foundations and support structure to buttress the existing building structure while the interior excavation and structure work were performed.
Located at the juncture of three rail lines, the new station is essentially an island, surrounded by train tracks. One line temporarily was taken out of service to construct two rail bridges that allowed vehicles to pass beneath the rails for access to the station.
The project team also had to deal with another “historical” factor in their work: the presence of contaminated soil and water, a relic of the structure’s previous function as an industrial warehouse and an adjacent coal gasification facility. When pumping out groundwater during the excavation to install roads or utilities, contaminated water had to be collected in a holding tank and treated, and coal slag was gathered and taken to a disposal site.
Blending Old with New
Not only does the station retain elements of its history in its new look, it also features a number of modern components. The main hall includes thousands of feet of hot-water piping running through the building floor to provide radiant heat. This allows the concrete to absorb the heat from the pipes and provide greater energy efficiency while offering comfort for passengers and visitors. The glass curtainwall has a zig-zag pattern with honeycomb inserts between two panes of glass. This proprietary system allows sunlight and warmth to enter while minimizing glare and excessive heat. It is a key component of the building’s temperature control and energy efficiency. The zig-zag shape also provides acoustical benefits.
Photos: Art Howard Photography