In the late 1990s, the Dutch government decided to transform six major railway stations into premium international public transport hubs connected to the European high-speed rail network. The aim was twofold: to improve public transport within and between cities; and to boost the urban quality of the station precincts. Rotterdam Central Station was the first of these projects to be completed.
The old railway station, designed by Sybold van Ravesteyn, was completed in 1957 and demolished in 2008 to make way for a new, larger station. This would accommodate the growing number of travelers while optimising the confluence of pedestrians, cyclists, trams, buses and taxi traffic in front of the station. The motorised traffic on the arterial road Weena was redirected through a short underpass, while buses and trams were relocated to the east and west of the arrival hall. This created space for a large plaza in front of the main entrance. The red stone surface of the plaza continues into the station and the passageway, resulting in a seamless transition.
The grand station plaza which gives the dramatic façade the space to shine was not part of the original brief. Initially, the station hall was envisaged to sit separate from the tracks, with a passageway running to the platforms. However, inspired by the ‘railway cathedrals’ of Madrid and New York, the design team proposed to incorporate the main passageway with the central hall running beneath the tracks. The roof was extended to cover the tracks completely, ensuring travelers waiting on the platforms were comfortably sheltered. An expansive glass roof over the platforms, supported by timber beams, draws daylight down to the main passenger corridor running beneath the tracks. In addition, the corridor was widened to make space for shops and restaurants, turning it into an integral part of the station concourse.
The station now creates a connecting element in the urban fabric where it was previously experienced as a barrier in the cityscape. On the north side, the station is modest in appearance, reflecting the character of the nineteenth-century residential Provenierswijk area. On the city side, the station makes a grand gesture. The generous dimensions of the station concourse and plaza, the warm wood and red natural stone finishes have an appearance and spatial quality that befits a destination for high-speed international trains. The tip of the iconic roof, completely clad in stainless steel, points toward the heart of Rotterdam.