All change: UNStudio’s Arnhem Central station

A 1,000-capacity bicycle garage was opened. The spectacular platform roofs followed -- 210m long, dazzling white with curvy undersides and long skylights, they rise up to a new glazed connector footbridge across the platforms. Van Berkel had relevant experience -- he had worked with Santiago Calatrava on Zürich's Stadelhofen station (1984), which had a ribbed platform canopy (later, in 1990, Calatrava would create another in curved concrete). But why not a single canopy spanning all platforms at Arnhem? Van Berkel says that would have been 'too much of a gesture'.

Three elements of UNStudio's design are clearly visible from left to right: The station and horizontal offices behind it; the office towers; and the platform canopies and footbridge
Three elements of UNStudio's design are clearly visible from left to right: The station and horizontal offices behind it; the office towers; and the platform canopies and footbridge

The new platforms opened in 2012, and Transit Hall work began the same year, the final stage in completing Arnhem Central station. On the opening day, van Berkel cheerily fielded a stream of random people who kept coming up from all directions to congratulate him. No wonder -- the hall he stood in is not just a clear, legible space for up to 110,000 people to flow through daily (twice the current number), it is also breathtaking.

There are no columns in the 5,355 sq m, asymetric Transit Hall, engineered with Arup -- unless you count the single huge sculptural twist at the centre of the 76,000 cu m enclosed space. It rises up to branch out into a wide helical ramp, 'The Bridge', which curves up inside the perimeter from the outside entrance, but with the twisted element continuing upwards to spread in two directions, blending seamlessly into the curving 65m-span ceiling. Somewhere between an abstraction of a tree form and a mash of maritime engineering, edges and curves suggesting vast propellers and hull bows, this steel twist was actually made by shipbuilders from Groningen, who welded the sections together on site. It would not have been possible in concrete, which otherwise constitutes the structure.

The bus station is accessed one level above the car park, and offices integrate into the space. Photo: Hufton+Crow
The bus station is accessed one level above the car park, and offices integrate into the space. Photo: Hufton+Crow

Railings around the central twist's base sadly prevent skateboarders and those with magical powers from crossing the floor and continuing up in a smooth path to the ceiling. The whole sweeping surface's origin lies in another curvy, one-sided object: 'It's like a Klein bottle,' explains van Berkel, referring to the shape of a single enclosing surface, tapering into a neck that loops back into the main volume, then curves out to be its boundary. This, he says, provided 'A strategy to combine the horizontals'.

The horizontals include the new access tunnel to the platforms, to which the Transit Hall slopes gently down, and the first-floor terrace balcony, accessed by escalators as well as the ramp. But the surface also sets in motion the roof above, its undulations only flattening over a third block of offices, which are horizontal and behind the Transit Hall. Inside, the surface also creates a calm environment -- as van Berkel notes, acoustics were not a problem because 'we have so many different forms and different directions'. He adds that 'people want to see direction', and in the Transit Hall all are clearly visible.

This organic curvy structure reveals its interior at night to those waiting for the bus, and the town beyond. Photo: Ronald Tilleman
This organic curvy structure reveals its interior at night to those waiting for the bus, and the town beyond. Photo: Ronald Tilleman

The surface is perforated with curve-edged skylights, but the biggest opening is the entrance itself, a glazed curtain wall curling gently into the concrete roof. The overall impression of the Transit Hall is reminiscent of Eero Saarinen's TWA Terminal in New York, but with the surface fluidity of Zaha Hadid in the Heydar Aliyev Center. The fluidity extends outside the entrance, at least in the long, snaking bench that diverges away from where Arnhem's trolleybuses stop.This is not just a major transformational agent in Arnhem's urban fabric, but a very radical station. Even so, van Berkel admits to relating it to great railway stations of the past, 'A little bit... the welcoming of arrivals that stations used to have, the power of the roof'. He also admires Richard Rogers' Barajas Madrid terminal.

The asymmetric, curving topology of Arnhem Central’s surface is not deconstructivist, not at all, insists van Berkel. Photo: Frank Hanswijk
The asymmetric, curving topology of Arnhem Central's surface is not deconstructivist, not at all, insists van Berkel. Photo: Frank Hanswijk

 

But with a Zahaesque fluidity and the spatial adventures of others such as Coop Himmelb(l)au's Wolf Prix, does the station and other UNStudio works -- including no less than 35 stations for the Qatar Metro, now in development -- suggest that he is deconstructivist?'No!' responds van Berkel emphatically. His position is to go against what he calls 'the collage of modernism'. He laid out this position in the book Move (1999), asking 'how can you reintegrate the elements? It's the opposite [to deconstructivism]... a bit like Bacon in his painting. Picasso was in a way a deconstructivist'.

In Move, van Berkel quotes from Sigfried Giedion's seminal book Space, Time and Architecture (1941): 'The essence of space as it is conceived today is its many-sidedness, the infinite potentiality for relations within it.... its character changes with the point from which it is viewed.' For van Berkel, you are a camera, which has a dynamic relationship with architecture as you move through it.

There is certainly drama moving through Arnhem Central. Van Berkel lists its major elements: 'How we played with the landscape; how we made the entrance'; the V service structures; and the Transit Hall with its topological wizardry. More out of avoiding losing the big ideas than any false modesty, he concludes that 'I learned to have not more than two or three major details to a project'.

The Netherlands' Other New Key Station Projects

When the Dutch re-engineer their major railway stations, they are re-engineering their cities as well, creating integrated transport hubs and redefining the immediate urban context. Arnhem is one of six such stations that the Netherlands has designated as New Key Projects. The others are:

Rotterdam Central
Benthem Crouwel Architects, MVSA, West 8


Rotterdam Central

Completed in 2014, the new station has a vast angular entrance hall under a sloping steel roof that juts outward over the city-side plaza, as well as a wide entrance on the north side, and one of Europe's largest solar installations on its 28,000 sq m rectangular platform canopy. The whole station now has the capacity to triple daily usage to 320,000.

Delft

Mecanoo


Delft
Photo: Harry Cock

By burying its railway line in a tunnel, Delft had the opportunity to reconnect the city. Mecanoo incorporated a new station with municipal offices in a 120m-long glass volume. The station hall, opened in 2015, beneath the offices and above the platforms, has 4,000 parallel louvres across its 30m-wide curving ceiling that, when viewed from a certain angle, become an 1877 map of Delft. A glass perimeter reveals the old city outside.

Breda

Koen van Velsen Architecten


Breda
René De Wit Photography | Koen Van Velsen Architects

A glazed brick facade that stresses the rectilinear with monumental entrance extensions make this modernistic, highly textural project very distinctive. The station will be able to handle 57,000 daily travellers when completed this year.

Den Haag Centraal

Benthem Crouwel Architects


Den Haag Centraal

The tracks flow into an almost Miesian 120m x 96m rectangular box with a diamond-lattice glazed 22m-high roof. Open in February, the new terminal is accessible on three sides to the street, and to the bus station on the fourth side.

Utrecht

Benthem Crouwel Architects


Utrecht

To be completed this year, a wide undulating roof over the platforms will connect a glazed 22,000 sq m station concourse and the Hoog Catharijne shopping complex.

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