Six of our Most Complex Infrastructure Projects

The origins of UNStudio’s architectural practice are founded in large-scale infrastructure projects. Our first completed project in this sector was the iconic Erasmus Bridge located in the Dutch city of Rotterdam, which helped establish our studio as a thought-leader in the world of infrastructure and urban planning.

Now, almost a quarter of a century later, we have built and designed bridges, train stations, airports, cable cars, multi-modal public transportation hubs and masterplans around the world.

Our approach has always been rooted in creating infrastructural projects that make our cities more healthy and resilient. This is an area of expertise that has become more pertinent in recent years, as the global discourse around climate change and a more sustainable future has intensified.

Looking back at our projects, we have conceptualised and designed new ways of urban mobility that are less polluting, greener by nature, and that improve and optimise the transport of people and goods over long distances and in densely populated areas.

These are six of our most complex, large-scale infrastructure projects:

1. Doha Metro Network

In 2012, UNStudio was appointed by Qatar Rail to create the concept design for the station's of Doha’s first-ever metro network. This ambitious undertaking set out to encourage a predominantly car-driven society to explore new methods of transportation. Just seven years later, in May 2019, the metro opened to the public, with 37 stations and three lines transporting users around the city on a 72km-network.

The highly efficient design and construction process was made possible by the creation of a detailed 'Branding Manual', which was compiled in collaboration with Qatar Rail’s Architecture Department. This document is an extensive set of design guidelines, architectural details and material outlines to assure the spatial quality and identity of the stations on the entire network.

It also allowed us to implement an innovative modular system, in which Qatar Rail was able to appoint various D&B contractors to deliver the stations, all following the specifications outlined in the Branding Manual. This enabled the 37 terminals to be finished at an incredibly fast pace.

In Doha, where cars have long been the predominant mode of transport, the creation of a metro network is intended to future-proof the city's transport network by stimulating the use of public transport and keep the city moving as efficiently and conveniently as possible for decades to come.

Photo: ©Hufton+Crow

2. Arnhem Central Station

Our transformation of Arnhem Central saw us turn a traditional main train station, located in the east of the Netherlands, into a major European transport hub crafted around its users. This central station was also key in connecting the Netherlands to the high-speed rail networks in neighbouring Germany and Belgium.

This complex project involved integrating a railway station, a central transfer hall, two bus terminals, car and bicycle parking, a taxi hub and traffic node of passenger, bicycle and car roads connecting with the surrounding areas and the city centre. Drive by a user-centric approach, the masterplan incorporated a carefully considered mix of programmes, including the multi modal station, shops, offices, housing and a cinema complex, which combined, turned what had previously been a somewhat run down and neglected area of the city into a lively, round the clock, location.

The architectural pièce de résistance at Arnhem Central is the main transfer terminal. Built around a large twisting central column, the design enables day light to flood into the open hall at the the heart of the station, creating an uplifting experience and a celebration of travel associated with the 19th century grandeur of rail journeys.

UNStudio worked closely with the client for the 20 years it took from the creation of the masterplan to the operation of all its components, in order to ensure the quality of this now lively station area.

Photo: Pieter Kers

3. Kutaisi Airport (and extension)

In 2012, following a design/build period of only one year (Oct 2011 to Sept 2012), the Kutaisi International Airport in Tbilisi, Georgia, opened to passengers, serving both domestic and international travellers in its pavilion-like terminal. UNStudio designed the entire development, including a revision of the runway, the master plan for the landscape, the terminal building, offices, a meteorological station and the air traffic control tower. After its opening in 2012, the airport was voted one of the 13 most beautiful airports in the world by real estate and urban design network Curbed.

Very quickly after becoming operational, the Kutaisi International Airport experienced exponential growth. In 2016, it was seeing more than 300,000 travellers passing through its halls, but that figure was predicted to reach 1,000,000 by 2020. This huge increase in demand inevitably created a need to expand this intermodal airport.

In 2017, UNStudio was commissioned to design an extension to the terminal in order to raise the airport’s passenger capacity and provide a comfortable and healthy travelling experience. This new indoor and outdoor passenger hall is currently under construction.

Visualisation: VA-Render

4. IJbaan Cable Car

In recent years, UNStudio has become a though-leader for cable car developments, with the belief that these structures should not be limited to alpine or tourist settings, but can also be used as efficient and sustainable public transport options in bustling cities. In dense cities, these can provide an alternative to metros, and are much faster to build. Our recent designs include the first cross-border cable car, which will take passengers between Russia and China, as well as a 3km-route in the Swedish city of Gothenburg.

But in Amsterdam, the push for a cable car came from an unexpected source: a grassroots citizens' initiative. Driven by residents’ calls, which were soon met with support from the Municipality of Amsterdam, the IJbaan Cable Car is imagined to become the Dutch capital’s fast, green and future-proof public transport connection.

The 1.5km-long cable car line will be a clean and quick public transport connection between two growing and upcoming residential areas in the west and the north of the city. The cable car stations are not only designed as transport hubs for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport streams to come together, but also as destinations in themselves; as new meeting places for the growing neighbourhoods. One such station creates a vibrant urban plaza on the water with restaurant and bar facilities.

Visualisation: Plomp

5. Hardt Hyperloop Hubs

Global urbanisation, population growth and urgent environmental concerns create infrastructural challenges that cannot be resolved with our current modes of transport. A sustainable alternative to air travel is imperative. This is where hyperloop technology presents an opportunity.

In 2018, we joined forces with Hardt and presented our vision for the future of European hyperloop stations, the Hardt Hyperloop Hub, alongside a study of how this new mode of transport can incorporate itself into cities and towns of different sizes and contexts.

Moving at between 600-1,000 km/h, the Hyperloop can travel at speeds comparable to airplanes, but runs on solar energy and delivers users right into the heart of cities, connecting them immediately with other forms of sustainable transport. This speed of travel also presents new possibilities for the fast transportation of goods, such as food and medical supplies, across continents, as well as establishing better connections between institutions for knowledge sharing.

In June 2020, Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport announced it will expand its involvement in Hardt Hyperloop, after a UNStudio-supported study showed this high-speed mode of transportation can replace a large share of the airport’s short-haul flights.

Visualisation: Plomp 

6. Erasmus Bridge

As UNStudio’s first built infrastructure project, the Erasmus Bridge, that spans the Maas river in Rotterdam, holds a unique position in our oeuvre. Its opening in September 1996 also marked the real beginning of the urban regeneration of the south side of the city.

This 809-metre-long bridge is the last crossing point between Rotterdam’s north and south districts, orchestrating traffic flows in and out of the city. Inspired by, and in turn reflecting, the industrial character of Rotterdam, the bridge adds to the narrative of the city. With its 136m-high pylon, it has earned itself the nickname of ‘The Swan’, and has become a true icon of the Netherlands.

Photo: Ronald Tilleman

To find out more about our infrastructure projects, browse our portfolio or read our Mobility Report.