Next year, 373 million people will find themselves on Dutch National Railway Company trains (dubbed NS), and for all sorts of reasons. Some people will be solo, commuting to work with laptops, while others will be in groups, with massive amounts of luggage, playing tourist. Some will want to make friends. Others will want personal privacy.
There is no one type of passenger on trains, so why is there so often just one type of seat?
In response to this reality, NS hired Mecanoo architects and the furniture company Gispen to create a flexible concept train for the year 2025. It’s a mix of several seating types that can be mixed or matched modularly, so that trains can adapt to customer needs. The design does away with the classic 2×2 model of seating–which organizes two seats of two on each side of the train–and replaces it with all sorts of options in the form of 12 new furniture modules.
The core seating unit is almost like a corner booth at a restaurant crossed with your standard office cubicle, featuring U-shaped seating and fold-out table tops. Don’t want to sit with anyone else? There are individual seats, too, that run single file along one wall like a tiny passenger jet. Or you can capture that whole alone-together vibe by sitting at bar seats up against the window. Or, assuming you’re as flexible as you were in high school, you can totally lounge out on long, bleacher-like seats instead.
The best part is that all of these arrangements are completely noncommittal. NS suggests that it could even switch up the layouts over the course of the day, architecting the space for human density during popular commute times but giving everyone a bit more breathing room during the more casual hours. Exactly how easily modules could be changed, though, is a bit unclear.
Indeed, the exploration is billed merely as a concept. It doesn’t exist in physical form at this time (though Dutch Design Week participants could try it out recently in VR), and the company has made no promises to pursue the designs commercially. However, NS is billing the vision as “highly inspirational” to the direction of the company, insisting that the train of the future “will turn journey time into working time. Or time for reading, chatting, or chilling out . . . it’s the passengers who decide.”
I’m not so sure that I’d ever want to sit cross-legged on some shared bench on a public train, no matter the circumstance. That said, every other seating option looks like a welcome departure from the sorts of train seating most of us know: hard, sticky, and uncomfortably close to strangers.