Shortlisted in Infrastructure Projects in 2019:
The Central Axis

The design of the Central Axis (N356) and the integration of the motorway into the northern Frisian landscape was considered a cultural challenge due to its high sensitivity. The designers faced this challenge by obtaining a cautious integral design approach. This not only applies to the structures along the motorway itself but also to the ‘receiving’ landscape surrounding it.

The construction of the new 25 kilometer motorway running from the N31 to the ring road around Dokkum is a remarkable project that crosses the protected National Landscape ‘De Noardlike Fryske Wâlden’. The fundamental design approach focuses on contrast, making both highway and landscape stronger, while emphasizing the aesthetics of the landscape to the users rather than ‘hiding’ the motorway. The motorway itself was designed as a contemporary continuous curved road, while emphasizing the current characteristic of the landscape by small interventions in the areas surrounding the road. The design focuses on the spatial transitions between openness and closure by removing trees in the open peatland meadows, while adding trees and shrubs along the gridded structure of the area. Both the view from the road, and the view from the landscape have been considered in the design process; both perceptions lead to a strategy for difference in detailing and materialization.


H+N+S collaborated with NEXT architects on the integration of the Central Axis (N365) into the landscape and on the design of the road, its built structures, bicycle bridges and ecological ‘hop-overs’. The design team was also involved in writing the procurement documents and controlling & supervising the contractors in the final design and construction phase. In order to preserve cohesion and continuity in the design, a classification of infrastructural elements has been introduced, thus giving the road its own recognizable identity and interesting sequence. The structures are strongly designed to create a clear and ‘readable’ project. However, for the generic elements, ‘building blocks’ have been developed in order to simplify the construction process.

In addition to the experiential value, the gridded structure also has an important conductive function for bats; using the vegetation as a flight route through their sonar system. In order to secure the continuity of the flight routes, large trees are planted in the roadside and central reserve, functioning as a natural crossing (hop-over).
At an early stage in the design phase a light plan was developed for the entire route in cooperation with Arup. Retaining the darkness is a leading principle in the integral light plan. The concept is to have as little street lighting as possible, resulting in low energy consumption and limiting adverse effects on the ecological system. A nocturnal image is created in which the Central Axis itself is not illuminated but the local existing roads are.

Despite the overall concerns of constructing a large scale infrastructural intervention in such a sensitive and preserved landscape, the final result has proven the approach to be very successful. The integrated design includes the spatial qualities of the surroundings, the ecological value, the resident’s needs and infrastructural requirements. All of which results in a contemporary design for the Central Axis, while adding a readable ‘new layer’ to the landscape. The opinion of the local community has shifted from ‘critical’ to ‘enthusiastic’ with the final outcome. The Central Axis’s design can be looked upon as a promising approach for similar future projects.

Entrant office name: H+N+S Landscape Architects in collaboration with NEXT architects
Role of H+N+S in the project: landscape design
Role of NEXT architects: architectural design
Other firms involved in the design of the road: Witteveen+Bos, Arup, Smitsrinsma Adviseurs, Antea Group, Altenburg&Wymenga, Grontmij Project location: The Netherlands
Design year: 2009 -2014
Year Built: 2013-2017

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