UTRECHT – The largest and busiest train station in the Netherlands has tripled in size and is now significantly more prepared to serve the expected increase in travellers, which is predicted to reach one hundred million per year within the next decade. Benthem Crouwel Architects has been involved in the development of the international station in Utrecht since 2003. The neighbouring City Hall building (by Kraaijvanger Architects) which appears to penetrate the dynamic, undulating steel roof, was designed subsequent to the final design of the station terminal, despite being completed before it.
Since 1997, it has been the ambition for the Netherlands' high-speed rail network that six major stations across the country – The Hague, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Utrecht, Breda and Arnhem – would be improved and redeveloped as central transportation hubs in the cities. The expectation is that the buildings should not only provide infrastructure for travel but should also self-define as landmarks around which commercial facilities and communication links can revolve.
Keeping the architecture simple was the key priority for the new design of Utrecht Station, after a series of complications saw it previously struggle to hit the ground running. When Benthem Crouwel Architects inherited the project, the first designs featured a rigid, box-like structure with a flat roof. Later, the wave was introduced: ‘The wave follows the operational scheme of the terminal; the trains are in the centre, under the high dome, with buses and trams on either side under the smaller domes,’ explains project architect Jan Benthem. ‘The wave makes the station stand out as a separate building from all directions and gives the city of Utrecht back its station.’ The rippling movement is emphasized by continuous LED lighting on the underside of the roof and functions as a natural way-finder by spanning in the longitudinal direction of the terminal, between the two entrances to the station.
The station’s infrastructure opens the connection between the old centre of the city and the new developments on the west side of the tracks. ‘The major Dutch railway stations are moving into the middle of the cities,’ Benthem describes, ‘so by developing the station more-or-less as a city square in itself, it can become a connector instead of an obstacle, giving a new impulse to the public domain again.’