In the 60’s the urban development area ”Zuidas” was still a part of Amsterdam´s periphery. Here recreational facilities and parks turned to open landscape. The densely populated historic center assumed mainly economic and tourist functions. Downtown Amsterdam became a shopping area and museum. In order to relieve the crowded city center, new urban areas were developed on the periphery to serve housing and commercial needs. The RAI exhibition center, the Free University, churches, convents and other educational institutions were moved to the southern edge of the city, following urban ideas of the 60s. A freeway made the area accessible, commuter trains and streetcars connected it with public transportation system.
The WTC station lies at the heart of the now called “Zuidas” urban development area. City officials responsible for planning the site conceive it as a “transfer machine”. Within a few years it had to become the Netherlands fourth largest train station, around which hotels, banks, and office complexes are planned and built. A tunnel for traffic between the RAI and WTC stations should be completed by 2030. Housing and offices will fill the space above ground.
Traffic is ”Zuidas’” most distinguishing feature. Freeways, subways, and train tracks cross the future city center at the top of an artificial embankment. They connect the periphery with the downtown, with the Schiphol Airport, the “Randstad”, as well as with international hubs such as Cologne and Euralille. Amsterdam’s southern periphery is projected as one of the Netherlands’ or even Western Europe’s best-connected areas. The superimposed and interwoven traffic axes define the urban landscape and characterize it as a transit space.
The train station at RAI Exposition Center might become obsolete as planners envision a greater significance for the WTC station. In spite of this, the RAI station is an excellent example for urban research of the current traffic situation. At this junction a multitude of pedestrians, on- and off-ramps, metro lines, and streetcars meet. The station’s daily rhythm is dictated by commuters at rush hour and by visitors of the RAI Congress Center. In contrast to the regular waves of people on their way to and from work, groups traveling to trade shows come in swarms for a one-time visit to a particular exhibition.
In our examination of the “Zuidas” urban development area and the RAI station in particular, questions arose concerning public space. Classic works of urban theorists such as Georg Simmel, Walter Benjamin, or Richard Sennett could be used to analyze the changing meaning of public space. Simmel considered public space as an area in which crowds of people define new identities through anonymous encounters. Benjamin viewed it as a space where individual positions, daily behaviours and social situations form a modern complexity. Finally, Sennet saw public space as a stage for different roles of players and audience. While privatization and the cult of intimacy and individuality endanger public space. What characterizes a public space like the RAI station and what is its function? Is it a stage for social interaction or for anonym encounters? Can it even be considered a public space? Where does it begin? What are its boundaries? What and who is the public? Or should be talk about a multitude of public spheres ?
These questions took us further and further away from the research of the particular place. A survey of the current situation of the “Zuidas”, however, continues to be the focus of our interest. We wanted to use and develop methods of spatial analysis to register and characterize this urban setting, as it exists now. The RAI station as a location for traffic and transit guided us toward aspects of movement, velocity, and rhythm. We were looking for a place that we could use as a laboratory for our still open questions.
The RAI station itself is a steel and glass structure typical for the 1980’s. The platform and the train tracks are on the same level as the highway. There are electric steps, a small waiting room, and a the smoking area. On one end of the platform there is a vacant fast-food restaurant with glass walls on three sides. In this transparent room we set up a workspace and furnished it with two large tables, chairs and maps. The place was a calm pole in the constant coming and going of people, trains rushing by and the noisy flow of traffic on the freeway. The glass box seemed an ideal location to observe the station at different times of day, in all it’s different moods, rhythms, and movements. The room became an observatory and an office at once. During our visits in the “studio” we observed the station, the surroundings and ourselves. (Watching the situation from this surveillance post, we also became objects of observation ourselves – observers in a glass box.)
WILDNER ZUIDAS 1 2