Delft tunnel in Amsterdam

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In the Cuyperspassage pedestrian tunnel, in Amsterdam. (materia.nl)

Amsterdam does everything it can to make it fun for walkers. You can see naked ladies in shop windows. Even the new tunnel from its central train station for pedestrians and bicyclists, called the Cuyperspassage, is bedecked with 46,000 blue Delft tiles depicting the sailing ship Rotterdam amidst the herring fleet in ages past. Here is a description, author uncredited, from the website Materia.nl, which seems to focus on high technology. The virtuosity of designer Irma Boom’s reimagining of a historic Delft tableau by Cornelis Boumeester on display in the Rijksmuseum gives rise to hope that beauty is not lost to every conception of high tech.

Lining the pedestrian side of the tunnel, these smooth, hand-shaped tiles are part of a spectacular tableau designed by Dutch designer Irma Boom. The tableau references a restored work by famed Dutch tile painter Cornelis Boumeester, whose works depicting the warship Rotterdam and the herring fleet is part of the Rijksmuseum collection. Boom however replaces the original crest on the stern with the Amsterdam coat of arms and added large and small vessels, crashing waves, seagulls and herring busses.

The mouth of the tunnel entrance itself represents a gentle approach to modernist design. As part of its work on the station, the firm Benthem Crouwel Architects designed the tunnel, which is used by 15,000 a day. And when the tiles eventually doff their cap to modernism, as described below, it is okay, because they have already done the heavy lifting of tradition.

As pedestrians and cyclists move through the passageway from the city, the tableau fades away as you move towards the Ij-river, before emerging again in the form of an abstract gradient of light to dark blue. This transition from classic Dutch imagery to abstract pixelation represents the journey from the historic district of Amsterdam to ‘new Amsterdam,’ as well as the evolution of Dutch artistic style over time.

… O-kay! I’d say that has it just about right. (A doffing of my own cap to my wife, Victoria, who sent me this fascinating tunnel article.)

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Entrance to the tunnel. (materia.nl)

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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