Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Great Railway Stations No. 15: Rotterdam Centraal

On 14th. May 1940 the centre of Rotterdam was destroyed by the Luftwaffe - 4 days had passed since the German invasion and patience was wearing thin in the German High Command who had expected to take total control of the Netherlands in 24 hours. In response to the fierce resistance mounted by the Dutch armed forces the first major airstrike of the war was ordered on Rotterdam as a message to the country that worse was to follow - the surrender took place the very next day. One of the casualties was the largest of the four railway stations that connected Rotterdam with the rest of the country - Delftsche Poort and in the post-war reconstruction train services were rationalised and combined into a single all-new station, Rotterdam Centraal. The new station which resembled the gently curving facade of a Modernist office block opened in 1957. By 2007 it was deemed inadequate and was demolished to be replaced by the present structure which opened in 2014.

The 1957 station (shown in the final image) was designed by Sybold van Ravensteyn, a long time specialist in railway architecture. Van Ravensteyn’s post-war career was overshadowed (but not curtailed) by his cooperation with the occupying forces, which included his design for a special carriage for the Reichskomissar for the Netherlands, the egregious Arthur Seyss-Inquart. Despite this his design was held in some affection by local citizens who campaigned for the retention of the station clock and the letters that spelled out the name of the station. Both were incorporated into the new expanded station.

A dramatically angular and asymmetric frontage makes for a bold and assertive landmark but elsewhere the new station is relatively understated. Designed for capacity and flow and not given to rhetorical vanities - the most striking visual effect is achieved by filtering sunlight through ridge-and-furrow roofing of alternating glazing and solar panels. It was built with an eye for detail. Y-form roof supports are echoed in the handrail clamps. The architects have spoken about the struggle they had with the brand managers at the state-owned railway (Nederlandse Spoorwagen) when it came to repositioning the letterforms from the old station. Their insistence that the name of the city must be included was eventually overcome by pointing out that anyone approaching the building would already be well aware they were in Rotterdam. Direct Eurostar trains to London were due to begin in March 2020 with the installation of security screening but are now postponed indefinitely. Since 2018 the Eurostar service to Amsterdam stopped at Rotterdam on the outward journey but passed straight through on the return.

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