Building around and above railway stations

Many railway stations were built at, what was then considered, the edge of town. However, because of severe urban expansion and sprawl over the last hundred years, railway stations are now situated in the heart of the city. In more and more towns and cities, public facilities such as cinemas and libraries are being transferred from the old city centre to the railway station area. The supermarket in the hall of Utrecht Central Station is the bestselling supermarket in Utrecht, while shops and department stores in the inner city centres are struggling to survive.

Connecting neighbourhoods

Railways are often barriers between city areas and neighbourhoods. We have identified connective opportunities; between neighbourhoods, travellers and locals, as well as various age groups and cultures, and people and nature. Station areas can be a place to live, work, have fun and to stay a while. We are looking for creative and effective solutions that transform railway stations into a connective link, through building enticing ground levels to generate public spaces in the heart of the city, meeting people’s needs.

Creating green spaces in the inner city

The station area will act as a new city centre, providing the opportunity for green spaces within the often packed inner city locations that are currently inaccessible or ‘stony’. Moreover, utilising the station area will help us protect green spaces near the cities. Smaller railway stations outside the city centre can also help save these areas. Currently the areas surrounding these stations predominately serve as large mono-functional parking lots. We propose these dead spaces are utilised to build affordable homes, especially for young professionals aspiring to live close city centres, with fast public transport connections.

Ton Venhoeven, VenhoevenCS architecture & urbanism:

Large station areas as regional centres for living and working.

‘One of the largest societal challenges is energy reduction – including the energy reduction of traffic and transportation. We can only solve this by aligning urban development and mobility in such a way that passenger transport and logistics are combined for efficiency, thereby the capacity of a transport flow increases). This idea and solution is pivotal for a sustainable organisation of transport. In logistics, big container ships and inland navigation provide efficient transportation. In passenger transport, trains do. The “last mile” is always the most difficult challenge, because eventually packages are delivered one by one to consumers. This could be the most profitable adaptation in transportation, but non-efficient urban planning could be an obstacle. The main question is therefore: how to organise the transition from these combined transport flow towards accessible hubs in the urban areas?

The answer is: a smart transition of all “hubs” involved, from large hubs like the port of Rotterdam where a container ship comes in to the local hub in the supermarket where consumers can collect their packages, either by bike or walking. Proper urban planning can also help. The larger the volume in combination with fewer the number of hubs that are needed for the entire supply chain, the more efficient and sustainable the transportation. This is also the case for passenger transport, where trains can handle the volume and the railway station is the transfer station for transport by bus or bike. Modern stations are often a destiny in itself (with e.g. offices nearby), diminishing the last mile. We can already see this development in Utrecht, Rotterdam and the Amsterdam Zuidas. Eindhoven, Arnhem and Breda are also developing plans in this field.

Rijkswaterstaat (part of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management) has asked VenhoevenCS to develop a point of view on hubs in the Netherlands, for both freight transport and passenger transport. We also take into account the potential for spatial planning around hubs. We are convinced that local and regional centres could be developed where people live, work and move from one regional centre to another. This will considerably reduce car traffic, improve the urban quality of life and protect the green areas surrounding cities -2-.'

VenhoevenCS, Sweco and other parties entered the Architecture Biennale together. They have looked into the potential of making the railway station and surroundings of Rotterdam Alexander more sustainable. Housing, energy transition and climate adaptation were combined in this project. Please find more information in ‘Stad van de toekomst 2050 – Rotterdam Alexander’, 2018.