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The Right Kind of Grand

Architect Jan Benthem imagined the new Rotterdam Central Station as a city square

Central Station, Rotterdam

“Rotterdam needed a new station to accommodate a new high-speed trainline. The local council were adamant that they wanted to stick to a tight budget and said that they didn’t need any ‘grand building’.

But we were equally adamant: locals needed a station they could be proud of and a station which put Rotterdam on the map and allowed it to compete with other European cities. It had to have a grand, uplifting atmosphere, at all costs. The other architects bidding for the tender had the same idea, but it was only ours that fitted it into the budget — by building much of it with wood and using a simple greenhouse construction.

One of the main aims was to make the station into a public place again, at a time when rail companies were privatising and parts of the station were becoming inaccessible without a ticket. We worked hard to make the platforms feel like a calming interior space where people can relax, even read a book.

“The station should fulfil the role of the city square. If it’s a destination in its own right it will be a place of connection rather than separation.”

—Jan Benthem, founding partner

We wanted the station to give the city a new lease of life, and to connect its two sides; the modern high-rise city centre at the ‘front’ of the station, and the low-rise traditional residential area at the ‘back’, which used to be seen as inferior. By making attractive public squares at both sides, they managed to equalise the two and connect them together.

People talked about it as ‘our station’ from day one. They had felt proud of the old station, but they liked this station immediately. There is no graffiti, even though there are many wooden walls. They have a feeling of respect for it.”

Central Station, Rotterdam

And now it’s time for a trip to Paris.


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