Assen can be described as a realistic yet ambitious municipality. A municipality that is growing at it’s own power and has expanded it’s attractiveness by realising all kinds of remarkable projects in the past years. The importance of their city in the so called Kings-axis, which is a regional development between Groningen and Assen, is increasing. To fully utilise this position, it’s essential to have a strong position in the urban network of the north of the Netherlands. The new train station will play a crucial role in this development, as it brings inhabitants, commuters and tourists together.
For the invited competition to redesign the train station in Assen, Powerhouse Company teamed up with De Zwarte Hond and known as Team A they were awarded the first prize for the project. Their winning design, chosen form a shortlist of five, connects the provincial capital at both local and national level, and represents Team A’s first station project.
The new Assen station has a reciprocal appearance. It ensures a strong connection and view towards the most important city characteristics, like the Overcingelpark, the city centre, the residential area in the eastern part of Assen and the landscape of the Drentse Aa. Meanwhile, the view from the city towards the station is humble and green. Only the front of the station presents itself as the front of a station should be: a strong, recognisable and inviting entrance. This embodies exactly the interesting ambiguous quality of Assen: urban yet green, recognisable yet modest.
Inviting, recognisable and accessible
The introduction of the high-speed railway line (HSL) in the Netherlands made the national government decide to invest in a serious quality boost for HSL’s main intermediate train stations which are named the New Key Projects (NSP). Amongst these stations are Utrecht Centraal, Rotterdam Centraal, The Hague Centraal and Arnhem Centraal.
Another reason to invest in improving the main Dutch railway stations was the increase of passengers. Not only are some train stations in the Netherlands not capable any longer to receive the numbers of passengers transferring these days, also the demands and desires of the traveling crowd has changed. They prefer to be able to abide in a pleasant environment with an omnifarious and comprehensive range of shops, restaurants and services.
Parallel to these renovations, Assen is part of a large development program called ‘The FlorijnAs”. The main purpose of the program is to improve accessibility in Assen. The FlorijnAs consists of eight projects, mainly on the east side of the city, that ensure that Assen is ready for the future. In this development, the station area is an important junction between local and regional tra ic. Financed by the government with a budget that came available because of the canceled ‘Zuiderzeelijn’, Assen got this chance to vigorously improve the infrastructure and accessibility of the city - one of the main conditions to stay economical prosperous. Assen is growing, and will continue to do so in the coming years. With all its facilities, it fulfils an important role in the region as a provincial capital.
The interesting ambiguous quality of Assen: urban yet green, recognisable yet modest.
“Inviting, recognisable and accessible”, these were the key words from the project brief for the new Assen station. The competition was not only about the new train station in itself, equally important was to create a pleasant environment around the station which can fulfil a central role as the city’s entrance. The station building, bike tunnel and the surrounding public space all lacked quality, atmosphere and e iciency. Not only would the new design have to function as a cultural beacon, it also had to be an engaging transit for commuters.
To this end, NS, ProRail and the municipality of Assen commissioned a competition. The new building will create a striking and welcoming arrival, recover lost links between the east and west sides of the city and provide a fully functioning, modern and flexible transportation hub.
The design task for this new station area could be summarised in three paradoxes.
The first one deals with the contradiction that the station now rather functions as a barrier instead of connecting the city with it’s main public transport gate.
Secondly, one could ask how to make a new and contemporary station area that, at the same time, functions as a ‘red carpet’ for the intimate historic city centre.
And finally, what should the design contain to be not only an eye-catching entrance gate, but at the same time flexible, efficient and future-proof?
To answer these paradoxes spatially, we organised the program in three groups: the bike parking and bike tunnel, the station-bound functions and public space, and the large canopy that connects everything together.
By creating three distinct, vertical layers the design becomes very accessible and e icient. The bike parking is placed underground, which makes it possible to clear the ground where we on one hand could now create a spacious city entrance, and at the same time make a generous access towards the bike tunnel.
Because all the bikes will be parked underground, there’s plenty of space on the ground level for the station-bound functions, the di erent traveler domains and retail. In this way, the ground level does not only function as a flexible plaza, but also as a red carpet that connects the station with the city centre.
The large triangular canopy is a simple yet generous gesture that unites all the di erent services and operations in the station, and at the same time links the east and west side of the city.
The canopy spans from one side of the tracks to the other. Each corner marks an entrance of the building. These two key elements bring the design together; they play a pivotal role in not only creating a strong and coherent identity for the project, but also in plugging into a wider urban landscape by which pedestrians and cyclists can pleasantly traverse the three-track railway to the city centre.
Through a careful yet extensive redesign of the landscape, the new station blends into it surroundings in a beautiful way and maximises the comfort for pedestrians, as it is part of a new ‘Red Carpet’ route through Assen, which is known for its parks and green spaces. The integration of ‘green’ is being introduced on di erent levels.
In the larger scale of connecting the station to the city, this takes e ect by creating an avenue of remarkable trees which distinguish themselves from the more local vegetation in the rest of the area. In this way the route to the city centre is clearly emphasised. The green structure of the city ring will be strengthened by the placement of new trees on both sides of the future car tunnel.
On the east side, the green border next to the train tracks will be expanded nearly to the now stony station entrance.
At the station square, green borders and trees are being placed strategical, so the plaza gets natural borders and becomes spacious yet intimate. This is being underlined with the careful design of the green borders’ edges, which form so curving benches that invite people to sit down and experience the environment.
In the north part of the train station itself, a sloping landscape of terraces encourages activity and natural surveillance around the building, its various entrances and the tunnels. Through a variety of newly planted local vegetation and the sedum cladded roof canopy, the new station connects to the city centre of Assen.
To make a future proof station, sustainability and durability are core values. These themes have been integrated in the design on many levels.
The skylights in the roof ensure plenty daylight in the main hall and the pavilions. This light penetrates until the parking and tunnel in the basement through large openings at the entrances. Yet because of the green roof cladding, the heat load is reduced to a minimum.
With an intelligent integrated design for the facade and MEP, only heating compact volumes and a smartly designed water system, the train station needs very little external energy and functions as a highly sustainable transportation hub.
Careful attention was paid to the durability of the project. The brick pavilions can be easily adjusted to the needs and desires of travellers. By creating a large yet intimate, and very transparant main hall, chances of vandalism are being minimised. We worked with light advisors and artists to make the bike tunnel attractive and safe. By choosing high quality, regional and sustainable materials, the new station is ready for the future. Characteristic in it’s cra smanship, this local icon will be a worthy front door to the city of Assen.