Antwerpen-Centraal, an architectural gem

Antwerp Central Railway Station, an architectural gem

Antwerp Central Railway Station is the city’s main railway station. The original building was constructed between 1895 and 1905, and served as a replacement for the original terminus of the Brussels-Mechelen-Antwerp railway. The stone terminus building, with an impressive dome above the waiting hall (75 meters high!), was designed by Louis Delacenserie, a Belgian architect from Bruges. On special request of King Leopold II, Delacenserie used the station of Luzern (Switzerland) and the Pantheon (Rome, Italy) as his source of inspiration. The train shed (185 meters long & 44 meters high) was engineered by Clement van Bogaert and built out of steel and glass.

Antwerp Central Railway Station
Antwerp-Central entrance hall

Although it’s difficult to assign Antwerp Central to a particular architectural style due to Delacenserie’s eclecticism, the station is considered by very many as the finest example of railway architecture in Belgium. In 2009 the American magazine Newsweek judged Antwerp Central to be the world’s 4th greatest train station. In 2014, the station was even awarded by the British-American magazine Mashable as most beautiful railway station in the world.

In 1998 large-scale reconstruction works started in order to convert Antwerp Central from a terminus into a through station. A tunnel was excavated under the station, allowing Thalys, HSL 4 and HSL-Zuid high-speed trains to travel through Antwerp Central without having to turn around the way they used to before. The project was finished in 2007. In 2011, then, the station was awarded a prestigious Europa Nostra award, an EU-prize for extraordinary cultural heritage. The jury praised Antwerp central for its excellent switch from terminus to through station and the succesful reconstruction of the monumental station building into its previous glory.

Antwerp Central Railway Station
4 levels, 14 tracks

Today, Antwerp Central railway station has 4 levels and 14 tracks:

  • Level +1: the original station, 6 terminus tracks
  • Level 0: ticketing facilities, commercial space
  • Level -1: 4 terminus tracks, 7m below street level
  • Level -2: 4 through tracks, 18m below street level

Project architect Jacques Vonke calls the station minimalistic with much grandeur. He deliberately chose for not-too-high-tech architecture in order to avoid a tension with the existing monument. Apart from the entrance via the Koningin Astridplein and the Keyserlei, Vonke decided to establish a new  entrance to the station at the Kievitplein, so that the neighborhood behind the station would be connected to the city center as well. In this way, Antwerp Central is a vibrant hub that helps to integrate the neighborhoods surrounding the station, and thus makes the city one big whole.