Interview with architect Ben Van Berkel
Ben Van Berkel is a Dutch architect responsible for more than 80 built projects across the globe. Van Berkel founded UNStudio in 1988 with carolinebos. He has also successfully designed a range of products, including lounge furniture, and door handles.
You have recently completed a major new station and masterplan in Arnhem after 20 years. How has the role of travel changed in that period?
Train travel has become faster and therefore much more attractive in recent years. In Europe we now have an international train network with high speed links, which means that we can travel between countries and cities much faster than was previously possible. This speed will also increase in the future, as new high speed lines are added to these networks. train stations themselves are also changing. They are becoming much richer spaces, with varied programs and greater urban and economic impact. They are now almost becoming destinations in themselves, rather than simply a means to an end.
Which aspects of the design were you most proud of?
I like that the design works. That it does what it promised. The feedback we are getting is that the public is really experiencing the concept of celebrating travel and that the design facilitates this. I mentioned before that speed is an important factor in encouraging people to use public transport, but travel is not just about getting from A to B in as little time as possible, it is also an experience. Infrastructural architecture plays a large role in facilitating this: it can help to amplify the theater of travel and take it beyond a prosaic experience. The transfer hall in Arnhem central is the key part of the master plan that plays with these ideas: it is the space in which everything comes together, the heart of the project where all flows converge and are organized. A certain dynamism can be created when architecture and the public come together and this is what makes this project special for me.
How do you see the future of travel developing, and what role does architecture have to play in that?
At UNStudio we refer to this as mobility+: an approach which also focuses on how we can stimulate the use of public transport. We can talk endlessly about making cars more sustainable, but we need to look at encouraging the use of other modes of transport in a far broader way. Arnhem central, for example, was a whole master plan. It resulted in a new and vibrant part of the city where living, working and leisure facilities are included to stimulate the use of the station and turn it into a transfer location: a hub for public transport of different kinds.
We believe that the phenomenon of the station should be changed as a typology into transfer locations with multiple programs. This means that we need to come up with new ideas for how we can support the users in these new environments and provide new types of comfort. We also need to learn to think about the whole passenger experience, not just the stations that start and conclude a journey, but also everything that happens in between, the whole network of travel.