There are several beautiful passages in the opening pages of W.G. Sebald's novel Austerlitz devoted to the idiosyncratic architecture of Antwerp's central rail station. Built at the turn of the twentieth century, it's a resplendent mash of neo-baroque forms and oriental detail. Standing beneath the soaring dome (modeled on Roman Pantheon) of its main ticketing hall, one might naturally think of Jacob Burckhardt's assertion that, "the character of whole nations, cultures, and epochs speaks through the totality of their architecture, which is the outward shell of their being." Certainly that great room speaks to the overwhelming imperial impulse of its patron, Belgium's King Leopold II. Part of the curiosity of the place is its many authors. The main building was designed by the architect Louis Delacenserie while the immense steel-and-glass shed to which it is attached was engineered by Clement van Bogaert, and the battered rampart on which many trains enter the station (and which rings the eastern edge of the city) is the work of Jan Van Asperen. Their work alone makes the station an architectural glory, but a recent overhaul by the Belgian rail facility specialist Eurostation only makes it more spectacular. Trains now enter and exit the station on multiple levels, and a trench cut through the center gives dramatic views of the cars moving in and out. The high-tech modern aesthetic is seamlessly integrated with the older forms of the shed and original hall, making circulation a breeze. It is the apogee of public transportation.
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