Harbin is the provincial capital of Heilongjaing, China’s biggest city in its northernmost province, with a population of over 10 million. Heralded as the Ice City for its well-known winter tourism and recreations such as its famous annual ice sculpture festival, the city has a unique history in the Far East as a melting pot of different cultures due to its proximity to Russia.
Founded from a small village in 1898 with the establishment of the Russian-funded Chinese Eastern railway, the city grew with an influx of immigrants from the Russian Empire. The city’s Russian Imperial beginning shaped the distinctive Sino-Russian identity of the modern city, with European-style buildings, boulevards and parks planned in the late 18th century sitting within a vast urban metropolis, grown out of Harbin’s rise to become an important industrial and scientific hub within China.
Fast forward to today, Harbin’s metro is undergoing an expansion of its lines, replacing their existing fleet of rail cars, in order to meet the needs of its growing population. With this opportunity, Harbin Metro Group had recognised that, although their current trains were admired for their thoughtful German design, they had not captured the hearts and minds of the Harbin people, who didn’t see their own identity reflected back at them in the hard geometric, flat forms of the 2011 train.
In 2019, Chinese train manufacturer CRRC Changchun Railway Vehicle Co. (CRRC Changchun) and international design consultancy tangerine pitched together to win a contract with the Harbin Metro Group in China to design and manufacture hundreds of new metro cars for the Harbin Metro Lines 2 and 3, whose expansion is scheduled to open in 2021 and 2022 respectively.
For the new-look metro that will whisk visitors to and from such stations as Sun Island and Ice and Snow World, tangerine assembled a team of European and Chinese designers who were led by Weiwei He, Director of China.
Tangerine and CRRC Changchun held a number of meetings with the operator’s senior management in China, including the Chairman of the Board, to gain a detailed understanding of their ambitions for the new metro train and their customer, helping the collaborative team of designers and manufacturers to align behind a shared design strategy and vision for the project.
Tangerine’s vision encompassed a modern aesthetic which interprets Harbin’s cultural heritage and Chinese design influences to give a uniquely Harbin identity. Inspiration for the shape of the train’s nose cone came from traditional Chinese works of art meshed with modern Chinese architecture. The sloped, rounded shape of the nose cone creates a dynamic profile for the metro train within a short depth of only 1m; it resonates with the iconic aerodynamic High Speed trains of which China now has the highest number worldwide. The silver and black face of the nose cone is evocative of the “H” in Harbin, a feature that elegantly echo’s the important role that the city’s metro plays in branding Harbin for its visiting tourists.
The metro livery and interior colour palette is inspired by one of the city’s most iconic landmarks, the huge green-tipped dome of the former Russian Orthodox Saint Sophia Cathedral located in the central district of Daoli, Harbin City. The visually striking train interior flows in soft sculpted shapes. The seating, which is integrated into the wall, offers a gently undulating back support in the iconic green colour of the cathedral, creating a pure form with no division lines. The fine, rounded detailing on the handrails, benches, windows and LCD passenger information screens enhances the light welcoming interior, creating a harmonious overall look and feel that is fresh and modern. The internal components of the carriage have been designed with minimal split lines and ornamentation, so that the metro performs well in service over the life of the product and is quick and easy to clean. Surfaces are easy to wipe down between journeys to combat encroaching snow and ice brought in by passengers who are escaping the arctic winter weather conditions outside.
Weiwei He, Director of China, tangerine, says:
“The new Harbin Metro trains are the product of a successful strategic partnership between CRRC Changchun and tangerine. The studio has successfully captured the beauty of China’s ancient inheritance and interpreted it with the aesthetic of today’s modern city. We are pleased that the Harbin Metro is being successfully launched to market in 2021 with a new identity that the Harbin people can be proud of and that visitors to the city can appreciate as they enjoy Harbin’s unique culture, architecture and affinity for winter sports and activities”.