The Hofplein line (1905 – 1907)
The Hofplein viaduct, which passes through the middle of 19th-century city suburbs and the nearby polder landscape, was built in the northern part of Rotterdam in the early 20th century. This 1.9 km long viaduct forms the start of the Hofplein line route, a 28.5 kilometre railway line linking Rotterdam with The Hague and Scheveningen via Schiebroek, Rodenrijs, Berkel, Pijnacker, Nootdorp and Voorburg/Leidschendam. The Hofplein line was an alternative to the existing railway line to The Hague via Delft and mainly carried seaside visitors from Rotterdam and commuters from The Hague and Wassenaar. Moreover, it was the first electric railway line in the Netherlands. The novelty and the comfort of this modern electric railway, combined with the attractive final destination, the beach in Scheveningen, resulted in long queues of passengers at the weekend. Travellers boarded the train at the terminus, Hofplein station, a lavish art nouveau building which housed the famous Loos café-restaurant, also a central feature of the station. A smaller, more sober pick-up point was located halfway along the viaduct at the present Bergweg station which at the time formed the city boundary. The building of the Hofplein viaduct was a spectacular breakthrough in the development of railway viaduct construction. Never before had an elevated railway been built that consisted only of reinforced concrete, and that with a span of 1.9 km. National recognition followed in 2002 when the whole Hofplein viaduct was declared a National Monument.
The Hofbogen – a new future for the Hofplein viaduct
In February 2006 the Com.Wonen, Stadswonen, PWS and Vestia housing corporations joined forces and purchased the Hofplein line railway viaduct from the Dutch Railways. The reason behind this move was the dominant presence of the Hofplein viaduct in the urban area of Rotterdam North, an area that is extremely important to the corporations concerned. Due to its length, the viaduct crosses several city suburbs and at certain points the line is literally wedged in by later urban expansion. Consequently, the Hofplein viaduct also makes a vital contribution to the quality of social life in the surrounding area. The aim of the purchase is to restore the neglected Hofplein viaduct to its former glory so that it will actively contribute to the quality of the public surroundings. Moreover, in 2009 Ranstadrail will discontinue the Hofplein line route, which means that an extremely large site will then become available on top of the elevated railway track. A carefully considered new use for this former railway line, as a public or semi-public recreation area will also make a key contribution to upgrading the quality of the northern suburbs of the city. However, the aim goes even further than this; the redeveloped viaduct will not only benefit the local inhabitants but, due to its unique combination of sturdy engineering architecture and attractive programme, it should also tempt other inhabitants of Rotterdam to visit this special location in the city.
Transformation of the Hofplein viaduct
To achieve these high ambitions, Hofbogen BV, in which all four partners have a share, was founded specially for this operation. The main task of the project firm, which is housed under one of the viaduct’s 189 arches, is to supervise both the form and organisation of the transformation and restoration of the viaduct. In concrete terms this means that it will focus on the spatial and programmatic redevelopment of the top and under the arches. One of the most important fundamental principles here will be to make use of the original qualities of this monumental object and to emphasise the embedding of the viaduct in the urban fabric. The aim is to start carrying out the first phase of the plans in 2009, when Randstadrail has disappeared.
Managing and letting the vaulted spaces.
Besides drafting plans for the future, Hofbogen is also involved in coordinating the everyday management of the arched spaces. Since the building of the viaduct in 1907, the originally open arches have been closed off in fairly random fashion by means of façades and floors, with the result that the open construction rapidly changed into a closed structure. The spaces were used by small craft businesses and shops which gave the ‘underside’ of the viaduct an increasingly semi-public character. To this day the arched spaces are very popular with entrepreneurs in Rotterdam. It is Hofbogen’s task to ensure that a specific rental policy will result, more than ever, in a ‘magic mixture’ of small creative, traditional and cultural businesses in the arched spaces thus making a stimulating contribution to the liveliness of the surrounding suburbs.
Temporary redevelopment of Hofplein Station
An important point of focus in Hofbogen’s activities is the temporary redevelopment of the old Hofplein station, which, due to its prominent location in the Pompenburg development area, forms an important link with Rotterdam city centre. At present it is a bleak residual site right next to Hofplein and bounded by the Schiekade, the Heer Bokelweg and Pompenburg; however, in view of its central location in the city, important urban development will take place here in the future. In anticipation of this development and the future transformation of the viaduct itself, the former Hofplein station will be transformed, by means of minor, temporary measures, into a bustling heart for activities such as art, culture, youth services and education.
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