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Arnhem Station


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Sara Johnson, Hanley Wood Media

Project Name

Arnhem Station

Project Status


Year Completed



234,115 sq. feet


ProRail B.V.


  • Arup

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From the January 2016 issue of ARCHITECT

Text by Katie Gerfen

“Everyone asks me how is it possible that this has been going on for almost 20 years,” says Ben van Berkel, Hon. FAIA, about his design for the Arnhem Central Transport Terminal, which was completed last November. The linchpin of a 79,500-square-meter master plan for public infrastructure in Arnhem, Netherlands—which includes not only the station, but also infrastructure and office spaces—the project began in 1998, two years after van Berkel’s Amsterdam-based firm UNStudio secured the commission for the larger scheme. “It had to do with the complexity of the use of grounds and with intensifying the programs around the station,” he says, noting that the challenge became “how could I uplift the quality of infrastructure in a far better way than architecture has been until now?”

When van Berkel’s team started the planning process, he says that the clients “were surprised that as an architect I knew so much about the statistics of infrastructure, and that I loved to play with all these numbers.” And his interest in organizing architecture around planning is a longstanding passion: “I have always had this interest from the beginning—maybe even when I studied architecture or before. There is always somewhere, someplace, in a project where you need to play with an interactive aspect of what architecture can be. I think a lot about movement.”

The emphasis on how people interact with a space is evident in his design for the 21,750-square-meter (234,115-square-foot) central transport terminal. Tucked beneath a rolling panelled roof (which is seen best from the nearby Park and Rijn office towers UNStudio completed in 2005) are ticketing halls, parking for cars and bicycles, regional and local bus arrivals and departures, and access to train platforms to the north, among the sundry retail and dining establishments that pepper any transit hub. Yet with all of this complex and varied program, the one thing visitors will not see an abundance of is signage. The building gives travelers all the direction they need.

Upon entering, visitors are greeted by a sweeping main transfer hall that spirals up around a thin, central column. “I think it is so much nicer when you look around a curve,” van Berkel says. “When you look back, you can see where your friends of family are, or where you have come from. You have much more communication with the people in the station.” The ceiling changes from white concrete in this main area to wood lamella in offshoot hallways that lead to bus gates, parking, and a tunnel to the train platforms, helping to move and direct people through the space.

What is ever-present throughout is daylight—even in areas where you wouldn’t expect it. In the glazed main hall, it reflects off of the polished ceiling, splashing bright tones across the surface as the angles of the sun shift throughout the day. Glass canopies over the outdoor train platforms (completed in 2012) filter light down onto commuters, and even in more enclosed spaces, such as the concrete regional bus boarding areas, windows are cut in to allow light and direct the eye to stairways and other forms of circulation to the rest of the station. To van Berkel, integrating daylight posed an interesting challenge of discovering new ways that “light could move you and direct you,” he says. “It has a lot to do with atmosphere, but also the mathematics of supporting wayfinding.”

Another means of orienting travelers in the space is the use of color throughout the complex: parking areas in vivid red, bus gates in a near-caustic yellow. “I love to work with color for wayfinding—I even do it in my office,” van Berkel says.

Though the design process was a long one, the core ideas and forms of the project have remained since the beginning. “I believe so much in working with the larger details of a project, like how I could combine a station with parking and all the different grids,” he says. “If you work instead with 20 small details or ambitions, you can sometimes overdo it.”

Some details changed over time, such as the transition from a concrete to a steel structure to allow for a more slender central column in the transfer hall, but, van Berkel says, “you can go back to renderings from the mid-1990s and be surprised how much similarity there was between the design at that time and the end result.” He compares his approach to that of controlling the composition of a painting: “If you have three aspects of a painting, and you execute them really well, then it doesn’t matter if there are other elements that are revised again or taken out.”

One guiding influence for the design of the station, and the larger plan, was the desire to create a new point of arrival for the city of Arnhem. “Since World War II, they have been looking for a new identity. It is a city of fashion and art,” he says. And one inspiration for capturing this sense of the theater of arrival was Grand Central Terminal in New York: “If you have a well-lit morning and light comes in, it is so dramatic, so beautiful,” he says. “That is what I was after.”

What he didn’t want was the utilitarian experience of New York’s Penn Station. “I am so critical of Penn Station,” he says. “I did lots of study about the whole area and the connections to the city and the station.” And even before New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recent announcement of a new renovation plan, van Berkel made an invitation: “Hopefully the people who have a life of thinking around Penn Station, [will] visit the theater of the Arnhem train station.”

Project Credits

Project: Arnhem Central Passenger Transport Terminal, Arnhem, Netherlands
Client: ProRail B.V.
Design Architect: UNStudio, Amsterdam . Ben van Berkel, hon. faia, with Arjan Dingsté; Misja van Veen, René Toet, Marc Hoppermann, Kristoph Nowak, Tobias Wallisser, Nuno Almeida, Rein Werkhoven, Marc Herschel, Sander Versluis, Derrick Diporedjo, Ahmed El-Shafei, Matthew Johnston, Juliane Maier, Daniel Gebreiter, Kirstin Sandner (project team)
Structural Engineer: Arup (transport terminal, design and tender phase, public transport terminal phase 1 & finishes of pedestrian tunnel); Van der Werf & Lankhorst (bus station, parking garage, and office square, design and tender phase); Arcadis (pedestrian tunnel, tender design, engineering and construction phase); BAM Advies & Engineering (public transport terminal phase 2); ABT (public transport terminal phase 2)
M/E/P/Installations: Arcadis (design and tender phase); BAM Techniek (engineering and construction phase); Unica (engineering and construction phase)
Fire/Life Safety: DGMR Bouw BV
Lighting: Arup
Wayfinding: Mijksenaar
Tender Specifications: ABT
Contractor: Besix-Welling (structure of pedestrian tunnel); Bouwcombinatie BAM Ballast Arnhem Centrum VOF (public transport terminal phase 1 & finishes of pedestrian tunnel); BBB, BAM & Ballast Nedam (public transport terminal phase 1 & finishes of pedestrian tunnel); Bouwcombinatie OV-Terminal Arnhem (public transport terminal phase 2); BCOVTA, BAM & Ballast Nedam (public transport terminal phase 2)
Size: 21,750 square meters (234,115 square feet)
Cost: Withheld

Project Description


Arnhem Station will be officially opened this week, on 19 November. The multidisciplinary approach by the architecture firm UNStudio and Arup linked architectural design to human behaviour in a unique way.

With the opening of the new station building the transformation of the area is now complete. Since 1996 UNStudio has collaborated with Arup to achieve an integrated design with distinctive architectural and technical concepts for the masterplan, public transport terminal and underground parking.

Key to the terminal design was a fast and smooth transition between different modes of transport and realising these modes on a very small plot. Arup contributed significantly to the integration of architecture, structure and lighting. As a result, passengers are guided intuitively and efficiently to the right place.

The terminal has two below-grade levels for bicycle storage and vehicular parking and multiple undefined above-grade levels that contain a spacious entrance lobby, retail shops, offices, service areas and corridors that link the train platforms, local and regional bus terminals, taxi stands, bike storage, and parking.

“The integration of masterplanning, architecture and engineering was major to the design, which could only be realised in an integral team of specialists in design and execution. Every phase of improvements were made and after a span of 19 years, the project is finished. The team is proud and excited!”

– Joop Paul, project director Arup

The ‘twist’ and the 'trumpet' are carefully designed structural-architectural solutions, using the most advanced computer tools. Together with UNStudio, Arup’s designers created 3D models of the complex terminal shape to ensure correct structural and lighting calculations.
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