Amsterdam has about 900,000 bicycles for a population of almost 882,000, according to municipal statistics, and parking them is a challenge. It is also a problem from the urban point of view, because they accumulate everywhere. Especially around the central railway station square. In front of its emblematic red brick building from the 19th century, a national monument, a submerged car park was inaugurated this Wednesday, nine meters from the surface. It has room for 7,000 bikes, is full of light, and is a colossal feat of engineering that has required emptying a lake to pump the water back once the works are finished.
The central train station in Amsterdam is built on three artificial islands, and Oriol Casas Cancer, the Spanish architect in charge of the project, explains over the phone that they wanted to “enhance the effect of the water, protect the building without obstacles, and give back space to the pedestrian”. His studio of architects, landscape architects and urban planners (wUrck), based in Rotterdam, won the competition organized by the City Council together with the construction company Max Bogl, and the work is part of a national plan to facilitate bicycle parking around stations recovered public space.
The Dutch company in charge of passenger transport (NS), and the organization that manages the infrastructures (ProRail), facilitate these projects in the cities, together with the administration and town halls, and the architect illustrates the working conditions with an example. They have operated under a lake crossed by tourist boats that travel through the canals. He says: “If you lift a tile off the ground in the Netherlands you will see sand. If you take away four, it looks like a beach. If you dig a little, water emerges in many places because its water table is very high”.
In the following video, which the Amsterdam City Council published on Twitter, you can see the four years of work accelerated:
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How did they start? In the first place, they introduced “braced sheet pile screens (a retaining structure) to be able to excavate the site in the shape of the perimeter of the building to be built,” says the architect. “The screens form a wall that allows the sand to be removed, and we removed 62,000 cubic meters. But as you go on you only find water, and it becomes a pool”, he assures. The next step consisted of making a concrete slab, “called submerged concrete and which is worked under water with the help of divers, at the height of the place where the bicycle parking lot should be built.”
In total, they used 21,000 cubic meters of concrete, and 3,300 tons of reinforced iron. “Then the water could be emptied, to finish the concrete slab and start the construction of the parking. Next, we placed the columns and a new concrete slab was applied on top. Once it was closed, we added sand again, letting the water in, which had spilled into the IJ river and is the same water that enters through the canals”, continues the architect. The water that flowed to refill the lake after the job was completed was the equivalent of five Olympic swimming pools. The architect assures that the City Council of the Dutch capital invests heavily in equipment of this kind, “in its execution and maintenance, because they not only benefit pedestrians, but are also an urban visiting card.”
Doors always open
Outside, the boats that take tourists for a walk now dock above the car park. Inside, white and light predominate. The doors are automatic and are always open. The hall has an automated system that facilitates the registration of the cyclist with his transport card, or through a device that is integrated into the bicycle. The bike can be placed inside at two heights, and there is a direct connection with the subway and railway halls through a tunnel.
“There is a central avenue of columns that are in the shape of an inverted drop, and have red, amber or green lights to indicate where there is a free space. In the most artistic part, I sought the collaboration of the Amsterdam Historical Museum to introduce the memory of water in relation to the city”, points out the Spanish architect. On the wall there is an illuminated screen 140 meters long, which they have called Horizon, with the plans of the Dutch capital, from its origins to the 21st century. “With the help of an algorithm, we then selected works of art from the museum related to water, and we have placed them in circular skylights, the eyes (eyes) from the ceiling. The office from where the service is managed is like a pearl, like an oyster, due to its curved glass”. Bikes cannot be left in storage. The first 24 hours are free, and then it costs 1.35 euros per day.
The bicycle is the most recognizable means of transport in Amsterdam, whose inhabitants travel two million kilometers daily with them (fifty laps around the Earth), according to municipal data. In any case, the new parking lot is not designed for the regular cyclist, but it will facilitate the movements of those who pedal to reach the railway station. They add up to 50% of those who later use a train as commuters, and once at their destination, take advantage of public transport.
In addition to reducing the mountain of parked bikes, improving access to the train can encourage citizens to use it regularly outside the city, instead of the car. The new service has involved four years of work, an outlay of close to 140 million euros, and its bright interior with an eye for art marks a turning point. It is not just a practical bike storage, but a display of design and architectural rigor. This February, it will open a similar car park, although this time on the water, with 4,000 spaces, in the back of Amsterdam’s own train station.
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