Rotterdam Decentral Station

Rotterdam Decentraal

Construction on the new Rotterdam central station was officially launched last week with the closure of the old station. But is demolishing the old and building a new one a reason for shedding a tear? Not according to Tim de Boer, who thoroughly enjoys the temporary station ‘Rotterdam Decentral’.

The blue block-like boxes immediately highlight what an unusual work this is. Indeed it’s so radical that no architect could possibly have conceived it. The different amenities that normally go to make up a station have been dispersed and spread out over the entire station area. Most of the amenities are situated on the forecourt. There’s a music-block, a Burger King block and, next to the interconnecting tunnel, there’s the large four-storey main block of the Dutch Railways itself. There’s also a blue block on the north-side of the tunnel: the kiosk. And with the RET ticket-hall block (grey) and the  metro entrance covering (yellow), the traveller lacks none of the usual conveniences.

The decentralized layout pays off in user-friendliness. Where before passengers had to fight their way through a hall crammed with shops and advertisements, now they find themselves outside immediately on emerging from the tunnel. At least that’s the impression because the glazed covering lets in so much light. The ambiance of the tunnel itself is sober, factual. The starkness of the design is striking, they even seem to have economized on advertising. The only visible advertisement flickers at the end of the tunnel – it’s the illuminated news trailer of a supermarket that’s been opposite the tunnel for years. As a designer you could hardly wish for a more apt contrast. The stairs leading up to the platforms are also conceived with the utmost simplicity, using standard components and materials. And particularly striking is the nonchalance with which details that were previously hidden (underground) are now revealed. Could this be a kind of demolition exhibitionism? An old-age-pensioner having a last flash?

Day by day you can see how the work is progressing. A drama of demolish-and-rebuild. Then there are the almost-daily changing routes, the removal of excavated soil taken by conveyor belt over the passengers’ heads, and a service road that intersects the stream of passengers, occasionally bringing them to a complete halt to allow a lorry through. All this turns the new Rotterdam Central into a great adventure, highlighting the difference of outlook between Rotterdam and Amsterdam, with its secretive closed-off construction site under Amsterdam Central. Yet in Rotterdam, strangely enough, the planning process and the design were veiled in the greatest secrecy. All the more ironic then that in Rotterdam the design for the new station is now revealed to the public, step by step, as the building progresses.

With this temporary station, the municipal authorities and the Dutch Railways have produced a showcase of innovative architecture, which is going to be very difficult for them to surpass with the new station. Fortunately it was announced this week that completion has already been delayed by one year. So, whatever, we can enjoy this piece of architecture (and drama) until at least 2011.

Tim de Boer | The Hague| 13/9/2007 |published on  Archined, translated by Nicolien Gatehouse

Rotterdam Decentraal