A unique commission, because the design of seven metro stations, three of them above ground, is not an everyday event. Even for architect Veerling, the assignment came as something of a surprise. “I had applied to the municipality of Rotterdam and they took me on. When I started there I asked what I’d be working on. Go and design the metro, was the answer.”
The designer’s chief concern was that this first metro line had to be a single architectural entity. Although the stations are not identical, either above or below ground, a similar design has been the goal where possible throughout, especially in terms of materials used, station layouts and – of course – the many signs.
Algemeen Dagblad, 30 December 1967
Rotterdam builds a metro
The Rotterdamse metro which began running in 1968, was seen as the crowning glory of post-war reconstruction. Nor that the line was less than six kilometres long didn’t spoil the fun. And even the fact that the half of the 'underground' line actually ran above ground along a viaduct wasn’t seen as an objection. That had been a clear, rational decision, which saved 24 million guilders on the total construction cost of 134 million. And there was plenty of space in Zuid for a metro viaduct. The viaduct past Rijnhaven and Maashaven created few problems, and the wide Mijnsherenlaan also offered enough space. Objections from residents there were simply brushed aside. The only demolition necessitated was that of a few homes near the Zuidpleinflat building. And the church was the only element of the Zuidplein development with its new shopping centre to be scrapped because of the metro. Construction started on 18 May 1960, which was Opbouwdag (Construction Day).
The most visible part of the metro in Zuid is the viaduct, which consists of prestressed concrete beams 34 metres in length. Five of these beams form the width of the viaduct, which accommodates two tracks, one in each direction. The slabs carried by the columns range in length from 3 to 15 metres. The maximum span between columns is therefore 48 metres, which ensures that views of the Rijnhaven and Maashaven is obstructed as little as possible.
The 377 concrete beams were made in a temporary factory at the end of Zuiderparkweg. One beam a day could be delivered. The 65-tonne beams were transported to the site and positioned with the help of a mobile crane. Many beams were also needed for the stations.
The viaduct is supported by a total of 57 round columns that that taper upwards. The columns and slabs were poured in situ.
Improvements in the quality of concrete meant that the extension of the viaduct to Slinge Station could be constructed with three beams next to one another. The distance between columns here is 41 metres. Construction of this stretch began immediately after the metro opened in 1968, and the extended metro began operating in 1970. In 1974 the metro was extended to Hoogvliet, and the link to Spijkenisse followed in 1985. This branch also consists for the most part of viaducts, with the exception of a stretch at ground level through Rhoon and Poortugaal and a tunnel under the Oude Maas.
In selecting the architects for two of the biggest utility construction projects of recent years, the municipality of Rotterdam has had great luck. Last year, architect W.G. Quist created an exceptionally good ensemble for the water purification plant at Berenplaat, and a first glance at the metro stations, still under construction, tells us that architect C. Veerling has demonstrated a great sense of form, size and colour in executing this commission.
Algemeen Dagblad, 30 December 1967
The three stations above ground were designed in one go according to the same architectural principles. That meant that components could be prefabricated and savings made. Details such as the lighting and typography were also standardized. However, the stations were adjusted to their different sites. Slinge Station, which opened in 1970, was also completed in the same way. Wilhelmina Station was only added with the development of the Kop van Zuid. This was designed around the existing metro tunnel. Since this metro tunnel is part of the sloped tunnel under the Nieuwe Maas waterway, the station here has sloping platforms.
With the viaduct as central element, all stations are fitted with two side platforms. At the final stop, Slinge Station has an additional track and, as a result, a more generous central platform.
The metro stations were the first commission by municipal architect Cor Veerling (1926-2006), who later designed the Willemsbrug. The main principle behind his design was the rapid circulation of commuters to and from the trains. Walking distances were kept as short as possible and walking routes were clearly indicated. Commuters had to be able to orientate easily, with signposting almost superfluous. Apart from that, the stations had to provide shelter for commuters. Veerling also designed the distinctive ‘M’ logo.
The stations are horizontal in character. That is emphasized by the wide concrete bands and the supporting beams of the roof structure, which consists of a playfully angled concrete roof, whose lower side is finished in wood. The concrete beams are supported by V-shaped concrete columns. Because the roof is slightly cantilevered and the columns are positioned behind a glass facade, the roof appears to float above the metro tracks. The straight line of the viaduct transitions into the diagonal lines of the stairs and escalators.
The metro stations were renovated from 1998 to 2000 and fitted with lifts by Maarten Struijs (Municipal Works Department).
The Rijnhaven and Maashaven metro stations have become iconic images for the metro on account of their freestanding siting. Rijnhaven was the least busy station and therefore fairly straightforward in layout. The station is 120 metres long and 14 metres wide, which a hall at street level. Commuters could transfer to bus services beneath the viaduct and stay dry. The station featured a plaque with a poem by Jan Prins.
Maashaven is a transfer station for intersecting tram services. Maashaven Station consists of three levels and incorporates the various routes running through the area. The station is lozenge-shaped in plan, which the main hall on the middle level aligning with Brielselaan. “To go from street level to the control hall and to the platforms is to experience an exciting play of spaces and lines. The grey colossus of the grain silo turns out to be less of a disturbing backdrop than you might initially think, and this ‘traffic machine’ clearly enlivens the intersection itself,” concluded Taco Swart in the Algemeen Dagblad newspaper.
Zuidplein Station consists of three levels and is thus taller than the other stations. Located at ground level was the bus station, which is why the control hall was placed on the first level. Ramps allowed buses to drive up to the control hall level. The design anticipates the construction of Zuidplein shopping centre, and commuters can walk directly into the centre from the platforms.
The architecture of the metro stations received scant praise. A. Buffinga, the architecture critic of Bouw magazine, thought that the roof shape was fashionably folded but the stations did have their appeal. Kenneth Frampton, on the other hand, in an assessment made on behalf of the Rotterdam Arts Council, dismissed the metro stations as some of the worst post-war buildings in Rotterdam. He found the architecture ill-considered and clumsy. The cylindrical columns turn into square ones at the tracks; the folded slab structure of the roof was, in his view, very cumbersome, and the detailing of the graphic elements was of an extremely poor standard. Today that fashionable character is viewed as a typical feature of the late 1960s.
Design of later stations
In 1970 the metro was extended to Pendrecht and later to Hoogvliet and Spijkenisse. An east-west line followed in the 1980s. Veerling designed Slinge metro station in a similar style. He also designed the later stations on the line to Spijkenisse and those along the east-west line. The stations in Spijkenisse and along the Benelux line are not uniform in design but differ from one another. That was done to make each of them more recognizable for commuters.
Over the years the metro network has greatly expanded. Commuters can now travel all the way to The Hague via Blijdorp, Berkel en Rodenrijs and Zoetermeer, eastwards to Nesselande (2005), and westwards to Schiedam (2002) and Vlaardingen (2019). Since 2023, they can even take the metro all the way to the beach at Hoek van Holland.
The viaducts above ground complicate the design of public space and are increasingly considered unpleasant. But appreciation of the architecture of the ensemble has actually increased. Artists painted the viaduct columns in 2018 as part of ‘Rotterdam Art Ride’. The public at large viewed this attempt to ‘brighten up’ the line as a success, but there was less enthusiasm from the architectural history community. The viaduct on Stadsplein in Capelle aan den IJssel was blocked off in 2023 with shops to hide the metro from view and reduce noise pollution and wind problems. The municipality plans to conduct a cultural-historical study of the value of public space around the above-ground stretches of the metro in Zuid.