Rotterdam has a new central rail station that looks a bit like a discarded fast food tray – at least according to local residents, who have nicknamed it “Kapsalon” after a local speciality. The nickname seems as much affectionate as critical of the slightly mish-mash design of the building, which as Jason Hilgeford reports, rather suits the city it serves.
Contemporary city, contemporary gateway
Many European cities’ development predates the invention of the train. Therefore the areas around train stations commonly have an awkward relationship with the old city centers that are adjacent. Recently, many cities across Europe have taken the opportunity to redevelop their stations and surrounding neighborhoods. Rotterdam is no different, in that it has pumped vast sums of money into the Central Station area redevelopment and commissioned ambitious masterplans for it. The difference lies in that the core of Rotterdam does not posses a classic historic urban tissue. This has given the city the rare opportunity to form a station indicative of the city’s character – a contemporary city, with a contemporary gateway.
Not a building, but a series of urban spaces
The idea to redevelop the area dates back to a masterplan and sketched station design prepared by Will Alsop. From the beginning, the city understood that these two elements would go hand in hand. Perhaps the parallel development of the station area plan [by Maxwan A+U] and the public space design [West8] to the building's design [Client: ProRail, Design: Team CS – a cooperation between Benthem Crouwel Architekten, MVSA Meyer en Van Schooten Architecten and West8] is an explanation of why the latter feels so much like a part of the city. The main spine of the station spills out, both on the north and south, onto green-banked “singels” – a type of canal. These urban green spaces morph within the building into a space that is reminiscent more of a bustling urban street than a station hallway - lined by clothing shops, filled with the smells of Asian dishes, dotted with benches, and paved with the same material as the exterior public spaces. Sadly, this sense of public space is interrupted by the odd choice of a fence-like line of gates that control ones’ initial entrance along the station spine. One wonders if the gates could not have been removed and even perhaps the singels allowed literally to flow through and connect within the building itself.
A greenhouse for trains
One ascends from this “street space” up to the platform, often alongside one of the tree-like columns that hold up the massive glass roof. This means the traveller has a light filled experience while awaiting a train. And above the angled roof form seems to reference the glass houses of the distant Dutch landscape. These angles fold down to creating a long rhythmic northern glass façade that seems to speak to the proportions of the townhouses in the area.
But all of these gestures are modest in comparison to the southern, main entrance toward the city center. The wood lined interior folds up in one grand, simple gesture to form a generous main hall that is shaped to urge a visitor out towards the city center. The exterior of this folded form is clad with stainless steel forming a façade to the sky for the central district skyscrapers to look down upon.
In the end, the building feels like the formal resolution of its design process – 3 designers, 3 different buildings trying to work together. But in an odd twist of events, the buildings’ most critiqued quality – its tinfoil-like metal cladding – has perhaps bound this diverse agglomeration together. A recent public opinion poll declared that the unofficial name for the structure will be ‘Station Kapsalon’ [the campaign for this name was lead by local artist Baschz Leeft]. The name references an infamous Rotterdam-invented, Turkish- influenced, barbershop inspired, beloved late night snack that is composed of fries, döner/shawarma, cheese, salad, all topped with garlic and hot sauce, and commonly served in an aluminum tray. After all the money spent, strategic plans, designs, and construction, this contemporary gateway to a contemporary city is adopted by its citizens because it is like them – a bunch of odd elements coming together to form something fantastically fitting of the city.
Jason Hilgefort is the founder of Land+Civilization Compositions and worked for a time on the Centraal Area Masterplan as part of Maxwan A+U.