All projects
Catharijnesingel · Utrecht, the Netherlands

A climate-adaptive backbone for the centre of Utrecht

Restoration of the historic canal, envisioned as a catalyst for a healthy city


In the 20th century Catharijnesingel became Catharijnebaan: an unattractive urban highway dominated by asphalt and concrete. When offered the chance to revert that development, we took the opportunity to push the idea further to its full potential. As the water returned to the historic Canal area, it brought along a new natural park route right into one of the busiest areas in the Netherlands. The result was an urban landscape that was fully connected to the past, the present and the future.

Utrecht, the Netherlands
2017 - 2020
Project area
4,2 ha
Gemeente Utrecht
Gemeente Utrecht, Witteveen+Bos, D. van der Steen BV
Photography/video credits
Stijn Poelstra, Antoine Thevenet, Melle van Dijk
2023, SRC design award winner; 2022, Rietveldprijs winner; 2022, European Public Space Prize winner; 2021, ARC21 Stedenbouw nomination

The completion of Catharijnesingel marks a momentous achievement in the 20-year project to restore the city canal, going beyond historical and ecological preservation. It symbolises a pivotal element in the revitalisation of the station area, transforming it into a pedestrian-friendly, green urban space that beautifully blends old and new. Moreover, this project plays a crucial role in creating a climate-adaptive city centre, addressing the challenges posed by climate change.


A rich history

From the 12th century to urban development

The roots of Catharijnesingel trace back 900 years when Utrecht was granted city rights in 1122 AD. The five-kilometre-long outer canal was constructed during that time, playing a significant role in the city’s development over centuries. However, in the 19th century, as the need for defensive walls diminished, a park designed by Jan David Zocher was established on a portion of the former defensive works.

Creator of meaningful places

Controversy and restoration efforts

In 1958, the future of Catharijnesingel was at risk due to the prioritisation of car accessibility, with plans for a ring road proposed by Max Erich Feuchtinger. Despite some parts of the canal being drained in 1969 for the construction of an urban motorway, the campaign for restoration persisted. A referendum in 2002 demonstrated public support for the project.

The restoration process involved a collaborative effort between the municipality, the residents, and ourselves. The resulting design revived the waterway while creating a park along the shore, inspired by Zocher’s style with contemporary ecological considerations.

What was once a 10 lane highway is now a green-blue resilient structure supporting slow traffic and bringing nature back into the city.

Creating healthy cities

Prioritising pedestrians and climate adaptation

The vision for a “Connected City” aims to break down barriers between various parts of the centre, to prioritise pedestrians and shift to towards slow modes of transportation. Green spaces and biodiversity take central stage, creating inviting social interaction spaces for citizens. The restored canal acts as a climate-adaptive backbone for the city centre, with a comprehensive analysis identifying the canal’s contributions to climate issues and proposing additional interventions.


Urban transformation

Enhancing walkability and public spaces

The ongoing urban renewal efforts in Utrecht’s city centre focus on enhancing walkability, reducing car traffic, and creating more space for cyclists and pedestrians. The design of Catharijnesingel carefully incorporates historical elements while integrating nature-inclusivity and ecological considerations. The canal and park offer recreational opportunities, with a variety of trees and features to attract biodiversity.

Creator of meaningful places

A showcase project

Awards and recognition

Catharijnesingel is a showcase project, winning the European Prize for Urban Public Space and the Rietveldprijs award for the best architectural project in the Utrecht area. The impact of this restoration extends beyond its immediate surroundings, forming part of a broader connecting axis in the city, exemplifying collaboration in walkability, climate adaptation, and cultural heritage restoration.

Catharijnesingel’s success lies in its ability to bridge history, ecology, and urban development, breathing new life into a cherished part of Utrecht while fostering a vibrant and sustainable urban environment for the future.


Discover other projects