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Rotterdam Centraal Station Satisfies Dutch Palate

Exterior rendering of the new Rotterdam Central Station, which displays historical elements from the 1957 station, including a clock and the entrance signage
The dramatic new station includes historical elements from the 1957 station, including a clock and the entrance signage. Courtesy of Michel Kievits and ARCADIS

The public embraces the dramatic new structure with a nickname that links it to a beloved Dutch culinary creation.

April 22, 2014—The residents of Rotterdam, the Netherlands, have embraced the gleaming new glass and stainless-steel Centraal Station—a central rail hub opened just last month—to the point they have given it a nickname: de Kapsalon. Kapsalon is a popular culinary creation of French fries, shoarma meat, and gouda cheese baked in a gleaming silver pan.

“It has been very, very positively received by both our client and the public,” said Jan Schouten, an engineer and project manager for ARCADIS, a global engineering firm whose parent company ARCADIS NV is headquartered in Amsterdam and is the engineer of record on the project. “Everyone is very proud of it.” The ARCADIS team included engineers Pieter Bout, who was in charge of the concrete structural design, and Harry Beertsen, who headed the steel structural design team.

The site of the new station has a rich history. The Delftsche Poort station opened there in 1847, the early days of rail travel. There has been a rail station on the site ever since, with the exception of a 17-year gap during reconstruction following World War II. The new station replaces one built on the site in 1957.

“Renovation and expansion were not possible because of the small scale of the old structure,” said Schouten, who responded in writing to questions posed by Civil Engineering online. “The Rotterdam Centraal Station is a multimodal hub serving as a vital transportation connection for trains, subways, buses, and trams. More than 100,000 people now use the new station each day, but the design will accommodate dramatic growth that has been projected in coming decades. 

“It is anticipated that there will be a threefold increase in the number of passengers, to more than 320,000 in 2020,” said Schouten. “This is due in part to the new high-speed train that provides connections to Paris, London, and Amsterdam, and to the new light-rail connection to The Hague.”

 Aerial view rendering of the Rotterdam Central Station

 More than 100,000 travelers pass through the station each day.
That number is expected to climb to 320,000 by 2020. Courtesy
of Michel Kievits and ARCADIS

The station was designed by a team comprising three Amsterdam firms: Benthem Crouwel Architects, MVSA Architects, and the urban design firm West 8. The design incorporates a large, open great hall that provides the facility with maximum flexibility. The cathedral ceilings are clad in wood and bathed with natural light from expansive windows.

The dramatically angled facade is clad in stainless steel mounted to plywood panels and connected to steel members. Laminated safety-glass panels are supported by steel or aluminum girders connected to the main structure. Historical elements from the 1957 station—a clock, the entrance signage, and two large artworks—were incorporated into the new station.

The facade is evocative of a boomerang or an airplane wing, the sharp angle in elevation indicating movement and dynamism. Because the structure possesses sharp angles and overhangs and is surrounded by much taller towers, a model of the structure was tested in a wind tunnel.

“The outcome was that the wind loading on the station is from one-and-a-half to six times higher than the Dutch codes,” Schouten said. “These higher loads have been taken into account in the design calculations.” 

The facility has distinct components melded into a one. The roof covering the platform is 250 m long and 150 m wide. An integral four-story office building is 65 m long and 35 m wide. The station hall forms a triangle 165 m long, with a maximum width of 70 m. The ceiling soars to a dramatic 28 m in the center.

“The design contributes to a feeling of openness and connection,” Schouten said. “From the station hall, you can not only see the platform and oversee all the trains, trams, and buses, but [you can] also enjoy a great view of the city center. There is easy access to the platforms and metro, as well as the 3,000-bike ‘parking garage.’”

 Exterior rendering of the new station, featuring sharp angles and overhangs

 Because the structure features sharp angles and overhangs and
is surrounded by much taller towers, a model of it was tested in
a wind tunnel. Courtesy of Michel Kievits and ARCADIS

The multiple components melded into one created unique engineering challenges. The open station hall, with its inherent lack of columns, was stabilized in part by structures on the platform roof and the adjacent office building, Schouten said.

“Our key challenge was to prevent progressive collapse,” Schouten said. To accomplish this, the team strengthened the structure of the platform roofing and the station hall in a number of critical locations. In the office building, engineers called for additional or heavier columns and girders. The prefabricated concrete floor slabs are connected to the steel structure and the concrete lift shafts. This enables the floor to act as a part of the support structure should a column collapse, he explained. 

All of these connective elements called for an integrated fire-resistance plan. Dutch code requires the station to be designed to survive a “standard” fire of 120 minutes, Schouten said. “However, because of the small amount of flammable material in the station, a standard fire cannot occur,” he said. “The structural engineers therefore recalculated the fire resistance of the structure by taking into account the actual amount of flammable material. The outcome was that more than 90 percent of the steel structure of the platform roofing doesn’t require fireproofing.”

The project included another formidable engineering and construction challenge: the client, ProRail, needed the former station to remain functional as the new one was built. The project couldn’t disrupt the transportation hub.

“By far the most challenging aspects of the project were the need to phase construction in a way that enabled the old station to remain operational, to meet the projected demands of a threefold increase in passenger use of the facility, and to integrate multiple modes of transportation at the busiest public transportation center in the country,” Schouten said. “I like to compare it to open-heart surgery. The ‘body’ of the rail system and the old station had to remain functional while building was going on.”

 Interior rendering of the new station that displays cathedral ceilings which are clad in wood and bathed with natural light from expansive windows

 The cathedral ceilings are clad in wood and bathed with natural
light from expansive windows.  Courtesy of Michel Kievits and

To address this challenge, the team examined every detail of the project. Prestressed concrete members were poured in rollaway formwork. Stud-doweled steel girders with prefabricated floor slabs were employed.

“Ensuring the safety of the more than 100,000 travelers who passed through the station each day was by far our primary concern, followed by our desire to keep disturbance within the terminal, with all its modalities, to a minimum,” Schouten said. “We also had to integrate and optimize the logistics of the contractors. One of the practices we instituted to achieve these goals was an overall monthly schedule that incorporated all traffic flows and included health and safety measures.”

Although the station is new, it is built around an extensive existing transportation infrastructure. The location of rail lines, platforms, and tunnels placed constraints on the structural engineering. “It was a challenge to plan the passage within the constraints of the site plan. The existing squares north and south of the building dictated the floor level, and the tracks dictated the roof level, while the inside height of the passage had to be maximized,” Schouten said.

A metro tunnel beneath the station provided another constraint. Because the tunnel was not strong enough to carry the weight of the station hall, support columns had to be placed outside the tunnel area. The south wall of the tunnel was then bolstered to act as a foundation.

The station cost approximately €300 million (U.S.$414 million) and opened officially on March 13, 2014, in a ceremony officiated by King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands.



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