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April 19, 2015

A city built on rail – the vision behind Vinge

Henning Larsen Architects has a blank canvas to design the new sustainable city of Vinge in Denmark. Its master plan for the 370ha greenfield site, just north of Copenhagen, envisions 4,000 workplaces alongside homes, schools, sports centres and other public facilities. Construction will be completed in 2033 and 20,000 residents will then call Vinge home.

By Daniel Garrun

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But kicking off the city’s development will not be an eye-catching sculptural landmark or multistorey tower – construction of a train station in the heart of the city marks Vinge’s birth. Henning Larsen Architects has collaborated with landscape architecture firm Tredje Natur in designing this transport hub. The station will sit in the heart of the city and serve as a link not only to other towns, but also to its own natural and urban spaces. It will occupy 35,000 square metres and be completed in 2017. As the first construction in Vinge, it forms a foundation for the rest of the city to be developed.

A seamless design

Vinge’s regional train station features an undulating bridge running over the train tracks and opening onto nearby green spaces. The fluid, bowl-shaped design gives the impression of a seamless hub sunken into the ground. Its form follows the natural landscape, working congruously with its surroundings. This shape also avoids splitting the city into two parts either side of the station – a common trait of stations around the world.

Niels Edeltoft, Henning Larsen Architects’ project director for Vinge, says: "Train stations and tracks often divide the city in two. The main thing in this design was to link the two sides of the city. You then get a city that’s connected with life going on in both parts – there’s no bad south side or good north side."

The bowl-shaped design also serves safety purposes by protecting platforms from strong gusts of wind, and the concrete structure will collect rainwater in gutters, ensuring a dry and anti-slip surface that doesn’t corrode over time.

There will be homes, shops and offices either side of the station, and the bridge design allows pedestrians to move around without having to go through the hub. A roofed bicycle parking area as well as an underground car park connect to the station. The architects also implemented easy accessibility to the station from nearby offices, apartments and bus stops. This all forms part of a wider aim to encourage residents to use public transport. Vinge will be a 30-minute train ride from Copenhagen on the city’s S-train network, thanks to the new station.

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Vinge

Combining urban and natural spaces

"The station is a symbol of a city that’s connected," Edeltoft says. Beyond serving as a link to other cities, the station also connects to its own natural landscape. He adds: "The challenge was to make this station part of the landscape and not just a bridge crossing the rails. We made the station so that nature and landscape merged together with the city’s urban features. It’s a greenfield site turning more into an urban space around the station but still with its green elements. It’s a mixture of nature and urban space."

Thomas Sichelkow from the Municipality of Frederikssund, the local authority responsible for Vinge, is project chief in the city’s development. He says the integration of nature into the station’s design was key to Henning Larsen’s successful bid. "We want Vinge to be a dense town with lots of nature in it. This is a contradiction in some ways. But we liked the way Henning Larsen combines both an urban and natural context in the station."

It helped that Henning Larsen came up with the master plan for the sustainable city. A stretch of land labelled the ‘Green Zone’ runs through the centre of Vinge. This will feature gardens, city parks, natural wetlands and recreational areas in addition to the station. Henning Larsen’s bowl-shaped design hides the platforms and tracks underneath the bridge, keeping this natural landscape intact.

This commitment to the ‘Green Zone’ has the added benefit of making delays more pleasurable. As Sichelkow says: "You miss a train today and have 15 minutes hanging around a big departures board. We asked how we could transform that time into something interesting – whether through shops on the platforms or a natural landscape. Here, it becomes a pleasurable experience rather than a waste of time. The station becomes iconic in itself."

Flemming Rafn Thomsen, partner at architecture firm Tredje Natur, which collaborated with Henning Larsen on the design, believes merging the station’s urban and natural elements will be crucial to people’s interaction with the space. He says: "We wanted a unified, dynamic space with a very present feeling of nature. If we look at people’s requirements for a good life, a lot of that’s tied to nature. When you’re stopping at the station, you should be equally connected to the natural and urban setting."

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Starting with a station

The decision to kick-start the city’s development by constructing a station reflects the fundamental ideas driving the wider Vinge project. It forms part of the Finger Plan, introduced in 1947 to establish urban areas around Copenhagen; Vinge is the last to be built. With the train line already in place, the new station will simply add another stop.

Urban planning rules make development in areas without a station difficult. But a commitment to Vinge’s sustainable assets and the desire to build infrastructure first has also necessitated the station’s construction.

Henning Larsen Architects’ Edeltoft says: "It’s a very strong statement to start with a station in the city centre. It could be easier to develop some of the residential areas first but the station is the main driver for the city’s development."

Tredje Natur’s Thomsen agrees: "If we had done this ten years ago, you would see a showpiece building. We’ve moved away from that and have gone to what I call ‘horizontal cathedrals’ that consider public spaces, quality of life and natural environments."

By establishing its hybrid of nature and urban features, Vinge’s train station sets a foundation for the development of a considered, well-connected city.

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