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Opening the Amsterdam Waterfront

Architect Joost Vos on solving the puzzle of railway station redesign

Central Station, Amsterdam

“Amsterdam is sometimes called the Venice of the North, but it didn't always have a pretty waterfront. When the state decided to build a central train station in the late 1800s, they made a new island by the docks to base it on. And with that, Amsterdam lost its view over the water.

In the 1990s, the waterfront was a derelict, neglected area. And the city side of the station had become chaotic and difficult to reach, with all the different types of traffic running through one another. We were brought on board to help create a 20-year masterplan for the entire station. One of the goals was to link the city to the water again. It took one smart and effective spatial solution: by moving all the infrastructure from the city side to the waterfront, such as creating a tunnel for car traffic, and placing busses on the same level as the trains, we were able to clean out the station square and at the same time redevelop the waterfront.

By moving the infrastructure, the ground level became free for pedestrians and cyclists to move safely from the IJ to the city, without crossing any fast traffic. A new canopy that mimics the older glass arches inside the station, provides just enough rain cover while giving a view of the IJ river. Enormous red letters spelling ‘AMSTERDAM’ are painted across the canopy, announcing the city to passing tourist cruise ships.

“This project is not about architecture, it’s about solving a complex puzzle, with an outcome that makes sense to everyone”

—Joost Vos, partner since 2005

The roof is a metaphor: the city is here, the river IJ is over there, and we connect them with this arch. The roof also can adjust due to its hinges, and move, which means the station can also move. It's never finished.

There was a need for more passages between the ‘old town’ and the waterfront. Cyclists were particularly frustrated, as they had to cycle a long way round. We decided to make a new cyclist-pedestrian tunnel on the west side.

To make the tunnel safe and easy to use, we split the cycle path and the sidewalk into black and white segments. To improve comfort, we put plenty of acoustic material in the walls to create an apparent absence of sound — tunnels usually have a terrible echo, worsened by the scream of mopeds.

The detail everyone notices is the beautiful ceramic wall on the pedestrian side. Made up of 80,000 hand-painted tiles, the mural, designed by graphic designer Irma Boom, depicts a traditional scene of sailboats on the side of the old town, becoming more abstract on the seafront, which represents the ‘new’ end of the city. The ceramic is not only beautiful, it's also vandalism-proof, since spray-paint can easily be washed off. Although the tunnel was invented to help passenger and visitor flow, it’s now become a tourist attraction in its own right.”

Central Station, Amsterdam

How do you create a landmark that respects its neighbours? Here’s how we did it.


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