A bus shelter near Amsterdam is stopping traffic thanks to a creative architect and an innovative use of polystyrene. Completed in February by Rotterdam-based NIO Architecten, the Fluid Vehicle bus station in the Dutch corporate-campus town of Hoofddorp is a 130-meter-long blob of foam blocks — and the world’s largest synthetic building.
Although it’s part of a major municipal project involving a new hospital and 1,500 homes, the project had a disproportionately small budget of around a million euros, forcing architect Maurice Nio to find low-cost materials.
This particular polystyrene was “the cheapest and lightest we could find,” he says, so light that the stuff, which often shows up as fast-food packaging, is not even suitable for surfboards. The blocks were cut to size by a company that normally builds scale models for the shipping industry and were glued together by construction workers requiring no special skills. The shelter’s strength comes from a coating of spray-on polyester.
Inspired by the abstractions of Oscar Niemeyer, Nio wanted a structure with no fixed points of focus, which is why Fluid Vehicle replaces Euclidean geometry with haphazard curves. This approach was in part a reaction to architecture that is designed digitally, but then built conventionally. “The idea never connected to the building process,” Nio says. But Fluid Vehicle hopes to show that it can.
He’s taking the concept further with structures whose polystyrene core is eventually removed, leaving behind only the ghostly translucent shell of polyester. “But this is only the beginning,” he says.
(Originally published in I.D. magazine in June 2003)