The Province of Brabant in the south is only one of few governmental bodies in Holland that is alarmed by the disastrous spread of urban substance. Lack of urban control by the state and a subsequent overflow of the Randstad is causing a haze of built material which results in an absence of real landscape and an absence of real cities, a blurring urban vague. Five offices were asked to look into this issue. We were asked to design Brabant’s future HSL-station. Very interesting: a station for the European high-speed train in Brabant where these trains would not stop. We took this question very seriously.
The emerging issues for us were 1. how to stop a high-speed train? and in doing so: 2. how to avoid urbanism?
We explored a strategy of exaggerating Brabant’s contextualism. Our keys being a disappearing landscape, damaged subsoil water management, uncontrollable urban spread and local short-term political gain.
For the station we concentrated on a future infrastructural node, west of the town of Breda. HNS landscape architects developed a scheme to restore the natural subsoil water system in Brabant. They proposed to excavate large lakes in the north of Brabant to absorb rain water. Naturally filtered water would then submerge in natural locations like before. Together with them we developed a concept to bridge infrastructural barriers by using the leftover sand from these lakes. One location could be Breda Sands, right on top of our node.
Monolab started to excavate this pile of sand in a strategy to avoid visible urbanism, as we knew that standard Dutch urbanism would further develop the appearance of Brabant’s landscape into a Randstad-look-a-like. Brabant expected us to provide urbanism by means of buildings while we submerged ourselves completely into landscape.
We designed the infrascape, a synthesis of infrastructure, urban program and landscape. It is a refined way of integrating metropolitan programs in situations where the visual presence of these programs is inappropriate or not wanted. Here a stratification of a new freeway, a new city highway and a high-speed train-track generate five million m2 floor space for a new city centre. We designed a grid at ground level, a spaghetti-like web for pedestrians/cyclists at +1, infra tubes at +3 level and a landscape deck on top.
The infrascape could serve stations, long- and short- term parking facilities, commercial programs, housing, offices, business districts, etc. Metropolitan programming is the only way to stop high-speed trains in this node that will supply a center to serve the complete southern half of Holland, connecting it to the rest of Europe. Shuttle trains could bring people and cargo to main ports like Schiphol and Zaventem.
For Breda this project opens the window to a Polycentric Brabant City.
For Holland this could be a way to ‘cure’ itself, to overcome its continuous problems with big projects. It would be a project to overcome the tiny private goals of local governments with their hidden -but at the same time extremely visible and present- agendas. Instead it would need co-operation between Brabant’s towns or top down co-ordination by a central government. Holland’s consensus society is too full of shipwrecked projects.