Amsterdam has come to be known as a cyclist’s haven. When thinking of the Dutch capital, romantic images of fietsers, or casual bike riders, making their way along picturesque canals and cobblestone streets immediately spring to mind. But though bikes now outnumber its residents, Amsterdam didn’t always look this way. The city’s bike-friendly ethos is the result of policy reform, citizen advocacy and continuous investment in cycling infrastructure. Rather than the piecemeal strategies so prevalent in North America, the Dutch have orchestrated a vibrant cycling network that links streets, transit stations and even cities. What’s more, this infrastructure not only serves a practical need but propagates well-designed public spaces that foster a sense of place. The latest of these projects is the IJboulevard, a remarkable new underwater bike parking facility opened on February 22.
Designed by local firm VenhoevenCS architecture+urbanism, this feat of engineering was awarded the 2022 Schreuders Prize 2022 for innovation in underground construction. The facility, located beneath the river IJ and adjacent to Amsterdam Central Station, holds 40,00 bicycles, removing barriers to cycling by encouraging first- and last-mile transport to and from the terminal.
The multi-modal transit hub (which is also the city’s busiest) brings together trains, trams, buses, taxis, pedestrians and cyclists. Prior to the construction of the IJboulevard (and the nearby Stationsplein bike parking facility opened in January), the above-ground stalls were completely overrun. The disorganized system meant bikes were left abandoned for months on end, taking up valuable real estate — or worse, ending up stolen. The IJboulevard, in contrast, simplifies and improves the cycling experience.
Entrance to the parking garage is via large, glazed stairwells that carry daylight into the facility and allow it to be seen from the street, sparking curiosity from passersby. These entrances are finished in the same natural stone as the boulevard outside, unifying the interior and exterior spaces. Once inside, cyclists can check in their bikes and enter an expansive, column-free space that allows for clear sightlines. Green lights above the piers of bike racks indicate where there are parking spots available. Warm and inviting, the interior features a slatted wood ceiling, subtle lighting and organic forms that help to orient and guide users through the space.
By moving the parking spaces underground, the architects have returned 6,000 square metres of street-level space to the public realm. The roof of the parking facility now serves as a panoramic pedestrian boulevard along the river, complete with seating areas to create a vital gathering space for both residents and visitors. The architects describe the urban intervention as “a new living room for the city.”
It’s more than just an amenity for residents: The IJboulevard also supports the local ecology through sustainable design. In addition to using eco-friendly materials and reducing energy consumption, the structure itself is designed to promote biodiversity. Underwater, biohuts, wood, coconut mats and porous concrete between the pile supports mimic natural habitats that provide shelter and surfaces where aquatic plants can grow and thrive. In this way, the IJboulevard not only improves the health of the city and its residents, but also the river it inhabits.
A new underwater parking garage designed by VenhoevenCS architecture+urbanism is a welcome addition to the city’s cycling infrastructure — and a striking example of pedestrian-first public space.