Nederlandse versie
Platform 11-12 canopies, early 1980s | Photo: Tim Boric/Flickr

The Utrecht platform canopies by G.W. van Heukelom

Aesthetic Sense and Practical Construction Requirements

In 2011, the last historic platform canopies in Utrecht Central Station were demolished to make way for modern roofs with solar cells.

In 1893, the elegant iron structure was the first major project of engineer G.W. van Heukelom. He later achieved fame as the architect of The Inkpot, the largest brick building in the Netherlands. His platform canopies in Den Bosch and Hengelo were preserved as listed buildings. The Utrecht roofs were gradually dismantled from 1968 onwards.

In 1894, the canopies were not realized without a struggle. There were serious casualties and riots broke out.

by Arjan den Boer

Le Pont de l'Europe, Gustave Caillebotte, 1877 | Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas


The first railway roofs were made of wood. Depending on the size of the station, either overall roofs were built covering all tracks and platforms, or separate platform canopies. In 1837 the first iron train shed was built at London's Euston Station.

The early train sheds were simple pitched roofs. Later on, arches became possible by the use of cast iron. At first, the constructions were hidden behind brick; in the second half of the 19th century the iron was left visible as a symbol of progress. The Chrystal Palace (1851) in London served as an inspiration. In Paris, the painters Monet and Caillebotte depicted the new stations and bridges.

19th century train sheds

From 1850 onwards iron train sheds emerged in the Netherlands, the first one at Amsterdam Weesperpoort. In 1865 the Utrecht station was given a roof covering the first two tracks. The largest shed was built in 1889 at the new Amsterdam Central Station. It spanned 45 meters and was designed by L.J. Eijmer.

The design of the complex spans was engineering work. Usually, there was no relationship between the station building and the roof; architect and engineer were each doing their own job. But there was one engineer who developed himself to become a celebrated architect.

Amsterdam Central Station, c. 1910 | Postcard by Weenenk and Snel
Portrait of G.W. van Heukelom, c. 1925 | Photo: F. Kramer ?

George van Heukelom

George Willem van Heukelom (1870-1952) really wanted to be a painter, but graduated in civil engineering in Delft. In 1891 he became a candidate engineer with the State Railways. After Utrecht, he designed the platform roofs for Den Bosch station. There, architect Eduard Cuypers spurred him to study architecture.

In 1899 Van Heukelom designed his first station building in Hengelo. He also invented new constructions for engine sheds, for instance in Roosendaal. Van Heukelom was inspired by the architect Berlage, as can be seen in his 1912 design of the Maastricht station.

Van Heukelom directed all major railway works in the Netherlands from 1917 onwards.

Inside of the tower of The Inkpot, 2011 | Photo: Arjan den Boer CC-BY

The Inkpot

George van Heukelom's main work is the Administration Building III of the Dutch railways in Utrecht, also known as The Inkpot. Construction started in 1918 and was completed in 1921. Containing 22 million bricks, it is still the largest brick building in the Netherlands.

The massive building features a central courtyard and a square tower with a grand staircase. Because of the shortages after World War I, Van Heukelom used kilometers of rail in the foundations. He also designed the interior and furnishings, which partly are still intact.

The Utrecht platform canopies

In 1893, to replace the old smaller roof, Van Heukelom designed three platform canopies with two large rail sheds in between. Together they formed a roofed area of ​​about 50 meters wide and 335 meters long, without having an overall roof like Amsterdam. The highest point was just over 11 meters.

The platform canopies had an elevated section with glass walls to accomodate the walkway and stairs. The cast iron construction rested on columns, and was constructed of lattice trusses with crossbeams. The design involved both aesthetic sense and practical construction requirements, as Van Heukelom wrote in the Building Engineering Weekly.

Finished platform canopies, October 1894 | Photo: E.A. van Blitz en Zn.
Drawings by G.W. Van Heukelom | Bouwkundig Weekblad (Building Engeneering Weekly), April 1895
Blueprint signed by Van Heukelom, 1893 | The Utrecht Archives

Construction problems

The tender was won by the Belgian Société Anonyme des Ateliers de construction de Malines for 269,000 guilders, nearly 100,000 guilders less than estimated. Van Heukelom supervised the manufacturing in Mechelen himself.

In early 1894, the columns were mounted in Utrecht. In July, the contractor could no longer pay its workers because of its cheap offer.

48 Dutchmen were fired and replaced by 22 Belgians, after which riots broke out. There were also casualties during construction due to broken scaffolds and falling iron. One worker fell off the roof and died. In October, the planned 'completion' took place, but construction was not yet finished. In 1895, the State Railways carried out the remaining works.

Pieter Jelles Troelstra in 1893 | Photo: unknown/Spaarnestad

Troelstra and the station roofs

The socialist leader Pieter Jelles Troelstra was living in Utrecht during the labour disturbances concerning the roof construction. To no avail, the dismissed workers demanded new jobs from the city council. Troelstra then organized a protest meeting in big tents near the station. There was a big red flag and a buffet with beer. After the speeches and singing of protest songs, people quietly went home, the local newspaper wrote. Shortly after, the Dutch Labour Party was founded.

Troelstra also acted as an attorney for a supporter who was accused of throwing stones at the police during the station riots.

Corrugated sheeting

Corrugated sheeting sounds like modern construction material, but in the 19th century corrugated iron sheets were often used on canopies and sheds. The biggest drawback was that the material corroded quickly. In 1898, Van Heukelom published an article on its poor sustainability.

In the early 20th century, most corrugated iron was replaced by laths with zinc or bitumen covering. Only the shed of Geldermalsen station is still covered with corrugated iron. In practice, rusty sheets proved to last longer than Van Heukelom calculated.

Detail of specification drawing, 1893 | The Utrecht Archives
The Utrecht Central station platforms, c. 1910-1920 | Unknown photographer


After only a few years, adjustments had to be made to the roofs. The corrugated sheets of galvanized iron had corroded. In 1898 they were replaced by nongalvanized sheets, so the rust itself could form a protective layer. At the same time, smoke-resistant plates were fitted above the tracks to reduce soot damage.

In 1904 the walkway under the high roofs was put out of operation in favor of an underpass that still exists.

In 1938 the platforms were extended and a flat roof section was added to the northern platform canopies.

First platform at Den Bosch station, 2013 | Photo: Arjan den Boer

Eduard Cuypers

The canopies were adjacent to the new station building of Den Bosch, designed by Eduard Cuypers in Neo-renaissance style. Cuypers became friends with Van Heukelom and introduced him to architecture. They shared their admiration for Berlage. Together they founded 'Het Huis', a studio for applied arts in Amsterdam (1903).

The Den Bosch canopies

In 1894 Van Heukelom designed two platform canopies and a walkway for the new Den Bosch station. The two platforms could be reached by stairs and a ramp. At the suspended walkway, the roofs were elevated and had glass paneled walls, as in Utrecht.

The canopies are no less than 450 meters long. In 1896 it was the first steel construction in the Netherlands. Steel is stronger, lighter and smoother than iron. The assignment was accepted by Koninklijke Nederlandse Machinefabriek v/h E.H. Begemann from Helmond.

Construction works at Den Bosch station, 1997 | Photo: G.J. Dukker/Rijksdienst Cultureel Erfgoed CC-BY-SA


In 1987 the Den Bosch canopies were threatened by demolition. After protests from residents and heritage organizations they were declared listed buildings in 1995. At first only the second canopy would be preserved, but after reconsideration the first canopy and its original ramp were also saved.


During the construction of the new station building in 1998, the canopies were restored and repainted in their original colors. They were intersected by a new, wider passage, replacing the old walkway.

A steel porch that once connected the walkway, stairs and ramp now stands on the first platform as a memorial.

The old porch from the walkway, 2013 | Photo: Arjan den Boer
The platform canopy at Hengelo, 2013 | Photo: Arjan den Boer

Hengelo railway station

In 1899 Hengelo was given a raised railway yard. Eventhough Van Heukelom designed both the new station building and the spacious shed, the two structures - in physical and stylistic terms - were not connected.

The canopy consists of a large central section, a lower western part and two legs at the eastside. The high central section covers some platform buildings.

The long sides are covered with glass panels from approximately halfway upward. Contrary to Utrecht and Den Bosch, Hengelo has a slightly pitched roof construction.

Van Heukelom's 1902 station building was destroyed during World War II, but the shed was retained. The listed building was given a facelift in 2011.

Partly removed canopies for the new passage, 1968 | Unknown photographer


Contrary to Den Bosch and Hengelo, the Utrecht canopies were never declared listed buildings. Before this became an option they had too much damage already.

The canopies were dismantled over a period of 45 years.

It all started in 1968 with the construction of a new passage which cut through the lower platform canopies. It connected the Hoog Catharijne shopping mall with the new Jaarbeurs Fair buildings. A few years later the old station building was demolished along with the first platform canopy.

The biggest mutilation took place in 1987 when the great rail sheds for the most part were demolished to make way for a new station concourse.
The remaining two parts of these sheds were removed in 2002 because of the risk of collapse.

Removal of rail sheds, 1987 | Photo: Peter Schoeber/Flickr
Platform 9, January 2011 | Photo: Arjan den Boer
Former connection of rail shed, January 2011 | Photo: Arjan den Boer



Before the final demolition in 2010-2011, only one-fifth of Van Heukelom's original area was left.

Column capital at platform 8, January 2011 | Photo: Arjan den Boer
Detail of platform 8 canopy, January 2011 | Photo: Arjan den Boer
Platform 8-9 canopy, January 2011 | Photo: Arjan den Boer
Raised platform 9 canopy, January 2011 | Photo: Arjan den Boer


The 2010 and 2011 demolition was carried out in stages as the platforms remained in use as much as possible. ProRail combined the scrapping work with the construction of new steel and glass platform roofs.

In 2010 demolition started on the former third platform between tracks 11 and 12.

Parts of this canopy had already been replaced provisionally before.

In the spring of 2011, the best preserved canopy was removed from the previous second platform between tracks 8 and 9. The laths and roofings were scrapped, but the iron was preserved.

Panoramas of the platform 8-9 canopy, May 2011
Demolition of platform canopy, June 2011 | Photo: Arjan den Boer

At the end of 2011 the last remainder of the large rail shed, kept in place in 2002 because it had overhead wiring attached to it, was removed from platform 7.

Remains of rail shed, platform 7, January 2011 | Photo: Arjan den Boer
Frame of platform 8-9 canopy, May 2011 | Photo: Arjan den Boer

New function

With the imminent demolition of the last canopies in 2010, protests arose from locals and architecture enthusiasts.

The municipality decided that the roofs should not be scrapped but given a new function instead. The Dutch Railway Museum was approached, but it had no space available.

In 2002, the large rail sheds had already been sold at scrap price to the Goes-Borsele Heritage Railway, which planned to erect a train shed on its premises. In 2011 additional parts were dispatched to Goes, but the long canopies from platform 8-9 were stored, later to be redesignated as a market hall in the new housing estate Leidsche Rijn.

Location of market hall in Leidsche Rijn | City of Utrecht

Situation in 2013

In early 2013, the Goes-Borsele Heritage Railway indicated that the rusty trusses and columns are being stored with no definite plans for reconstruction. The original plan to rebuild the Utrecht sheds proved unfeasible because parts were lost during the demolition.

The canopies stored in Utrecht are in a better condition. The iron has been slightly refurbished and the roofs will be given a new wood covering. They will be resurrected in the autumn of 2013 at the new square Berlijnplein in Leidsche Rijn. The roofs will be juxtaposed, creating a market hall of 30x35 meters. This is only 7 percent of the original roof surface.

Impression of the Utrecht Public Transport Terminal | ProRail/Benthem Crouwel Architekten

Public Transport Terminal

The new platforms are part of a large-scale renewal of the Utrecht railway station area. Benthem Crouwel Architects designed a new hall with a large undulating roof with a lot of daylight. It is called public transport terminal as it will connect all platforms for trains, buses and trams.

The renewed terminal is meant to cope with the future number of 360,000 passengers per day. The construction started in 2010 and will be completed in 2016.

In the final building stage, the station will be separated from the Hoog Catharijne shopping mall and be given raised squares and entrances on both sides. Alongside the hall, a promenade of some 300 meters long will span the tracks. The public transport terminal will be the largest railway station in the Netherlands.

Canopy with solar cells, platform 8-9, March 2013 | Photo: Arjan den Boer

New canopies

The new platform canopies are made of steel and curved glass. Innovative, semi-translucent solar cells are mounted on the glass on three of the platforms. They have a combined power generation capacity of some 85,000 kWh per year, which equals six percent of the station's total energy consumption.

The Utrecht platform canopies by G.W. van Heukelom



[Maatschappij tot Exploitatie van Staatsspoorwegen], Bestek en voorwaarden wegens het maken van eene overkapping op het Station Utrecht, Utrecht 1893 [Het Utrechts Archief toegang 916 nr. 619].

Bakker, Martine en Roding, Juliette, George Willem van Heukelom (1870-1952), [BONAS] Rotterdam, 2000.

Heukelom, G.W. van, Perron-overkapping op het station Utrecht der Maatschappij tot Exploitatie van Staatsspoorwegen. In: Bouwkundig Weekblad, 15e jaargang nr. 17, 27 April 1895

Saal, Peter en Spangenberg, Flip, Kijk op stations, Amsterdam 1983.

Vakar, Laszló, Restauratie perronkappen 's-Hertogenbosch. Vroege staalconstructie behouden. In: Bulletin KNOB 98, 1999-3.

Visser, Rien de, Station Geldermalsen enig in zijn soort. In: Dakenraad nr. 97, september 2012.

Online Sources

Nederlands Architectuur Instituut: ir. G.W. van Heukelom

Utrechtsch Nieuwsblad several articles 1884-1885

Image collection Utrecht Archives

Dutch Historical Newspapers incl. article De Locomotief 30 July 1894

Website and news archive CU2030

Website Bouwput Utrecht

Bossche Encyclopedie: Perronkappen

Stationsweb: Utrecht Centraal, 's-Hertogenbosch en Hengelo

Dutch Wikipedia: