Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART) Central Station

Des Moines, Iowa
22,000 SF

Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART)

Project Team
Todd Garner
Matt Rodekamp

Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART) Central Station – Substance Architecture
Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART) Central Station – Substance Architecture

DART Central Station

The Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART) Central Station project presented the complex challenge of consolidating all transit transfer functions onto a single site, located on the southern gateway of downtown Des Moines, IA. This ambitious project aimed to provide efficient bus and pedestrian flow, enhanced safety measures, climate-controlled interiors, on-site customer service, and administrative offices, all while striving for maximum energy efficiency. It was vital that the facility not only meet these functional requirements but also serve as an iconic presence that elevates DART's image in the community.

With intricate planning, the Substance Architecture team designed a site layout focused on the safe and efficient movement of both vehicles and people. They introduced a 'safe zone'—an intuitive pedestrian pathway connecting key areas and marked by a grand, iconic canopy that provides weather protection and establishes a strong visual identity against Des Moines' downtown skyline. Smaller sloped canopies with skylights and solar panel arrays cover the transfer platforms, generating electricity for the facility while illuminating customer areas. This state-of-the-art facility was certified as LEED Platinum® in 2013, setting a new standard in sustainable, efficient, and iconic transit architecture.

At DART Central Station, our design philosophy centered on one pivotal question: 'How can we enhance the commuter experience while respecting the city’s fabric?' The answer lay in a canopy that wasn’t just protective but iconic, a feature that transformed the skyline and turned a functional space into an urban landmark.

From the intricate planning of pedestrian pathways to the integration of photovoltaic skylights, every aspect of DART Central Station reflects the marriage of purpose and design. It’s where sustainability meets architectural elegance, setting a new benchmark for public transit facilities.

Elevating User Safety

User safety was paramount to the function and success of the project. The design employed numerous passive features to encourage safe use. All pedestrian circulation paths are identified by alternating light and dark granite pavers. Circulation between platforms is provided via a slightly raised walkway which supports ADA accessibility but also builds in a 'speed bump' to slow buses. Canopies are located above all circulation areas to spatially define circulation paths, provide protection from the elements, and house the infrastructure for lighting and user communication. No sidewalks flank the two sides of the site where buses enter and exit.

Faced with a site full of challenges – an odd shape, unknown underground conditions, and proximity to active rail tracks—the design team saw past obstacles to opportunities for innovation. Transforming this underutilized space into DART Central Station, we created more than a transit hub; we crafted an emblem of sustainable urban progress.

Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART) Central Station – Substance Architecture

Site and floor plan - level 1

Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART) Central Station – Substance Architecture

Site and floor plan - level 2

Form Follows Function

The project successfully removed bus transfer functions formerly assembled along a six to eight-block road to a consolidated, centrally located, and elegant transfer facility on the edge of the downtown business district. The iconic canopy roof, intentionally draped up and over the administration building, unifies the facility’s functions and creates an elegant landmark.

Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART) Central Station – Substance Architecture

Concept diagrams

Interior Design Excellence

The interior design plays a crucial role in establishing the station as a place of comfort and convenience, aligning with its overall aesthetic and functional goals. The interiors reflect a blend of modernity and comfort, offering passengers a welcoming and efficient space. The climate-controlled interior customer waiting area, coupled with on-site customer service and administrative offices, shows the focus on user experience.

Sustainability at the Core

DART Central Station’s LEED Platinum® certification reinforces the project’s commitment to sustainable design and site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality. It features geothermal wells, stormwater management, and a solar array on canopies, showcasing an integrated approach to sustainability that extends beyond the building to its impact on the community.

Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART) Central Station – Substance Architecture

Water cycle diagram

Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART) Central Station – Substance Architecture

Energy flow diagram

Commitment and Persistence

The success of DART Central Station is the result of Substance’s decades-long collaborative relationship with DART which has included over 20 improvement projects within their two facilities. The team is currently involved in the design of a new Operations and Maintenance Facility. Substance worked diligently alongside DART over the years to build and establish a great working relationship parallel to developing the program for this project.


MEPT Engineer
Structural Engineer
Civil Engineer
LT Leon Associates
Landscape Architect
Sustainability Consultant
C-Wise Design and Consulting LLC
Energy Modeling
The Weidt Group
Daylight Modeling
The Weidt Group
Commissioning Agent
IMEG (formerly KJWW Engineering)
General Contractor
The Weitz Company


2015 American Architecture Award
Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design and The European Centre for Architecture, Art and Design
2015 National Certificate of Recognition, IDEAS2 Awards
American Institute of Steel Construction
2014 Merit Award
American Institute of Architects - Iowa Chapter
2013 Environmental Impact Award
Center on Sustainable Communities


Winter 2015 Iowa Architect
Spring 2014 Iowa Architect
Spring 2013 Iowa Architect
Fall 2012 Iowa Architect

Photography by Paul Crosby Architectural Photography and Ben Easter Photography