49 Neon Secrets, dokter Reilinghplein & Stationsweg

There were 49 neon secrets hidden in the city of Leerdam, the Netherlands. They were situated on a forgotten square on the outskirts of the historic centre. This geometric glass artwork, by artist Marijke de Goey, divided public opinion. Our proposal took inspiration from the artwork to create a spatial grid that shrinks and expands to create the spatial composition. Resulting in a new public space with a graphic approach that can be seen at the large scale and in detail.

We set out to create a public space that invites a multitude of users and age groups to meet, play, socialise and feel safe. When we started our assignment there were a few primary focusses to solve. The space was monotone, too hot in the summer and windy in the winter. Creating a more pleasant public space was a fundamental task but we also wanted to remove the anonymity that we see occurring in cities. We took inspiration for the surrounding landscape and aimed to bring it back into the city, anchoring dokter Reilinghplein in its context. We worked for several years closely with our client and inhabitants of Leerdam to create a square for the city.

The surrounding landscape can be categorised into two powerful scenic structures characterising the landscape surrounding Leerdam. The meandering Linge river and its banks and lower basins. These basins are predominantly wet meadows, confined by the Diefdijk dyke, part of the Dutch Water Defence line. The second landscape type are the surrounding orchards of the Betuwe, more to the east. Together, these characteristics form the foundation for the green story of dokter Reilinghplein, not only in structure and species but integrating ecology in the city.

Our idea was to transform dokter Reilinghplein into an urban square with its own, powerful identity, formed by the remarkable surroundings. To introduce the citizens of Leerdam to our research landscape and to guide them through the creative process of redesigning the site, we organised a pop-up exhibition. People were invited to visit the exhibition and we engaged with visitors in an open dialogue about the vision and specific choices for the space. People could experience our proposals for the future square through 360º visuals of the design, presented using VR glasses, sample materials and visuals.

Together with the 49 neon secrets, the square forms the entrance to the historical inner city of Leerdam. Our aim was to create a clear and memorable entrance for visitors to the city, whilst creating a place for locals to meet. The hardscape is characterised through a strict grid of paving over the square, this integrates the artwork and creates space for public events. The vegetation is an abstraction of the surrounding landscape Brought back into the city, creating a strong contrast between the sharp hardscape and the lush and colourful vegetation.

We collaborated with various experts and advisors whilst working on and refining the design. For the vegetation we worked with an ecologist and a planting expert, for the sustainable rainwater solutions with a hydrologist and we have involved various advisors for the materialisation and finishes. The water object on the square was created with a company that CNC milled a mould, after which an artist applied various fractions of sand. The 8 by 2 metre form work was then filled to create a single concrete object with subtle height differences and textures. Together with a water specialist we created a dynamic program to make the object function.

Light large scale pavers were chosen to create an urban square and to combat heat stress. Early on, we sought collaborations to investigate the possibilities for the hardscape. We looked at properties such as; sizes, proportions, thickness but also; color, texture and finish. We developed the idea of ​​having the large format pavers (2 by 1.25m). The pavers are partly blasted to create a visible graphic. The production location was visited frequently and a 1:1 sample was created to assess the colour, structure and creation of the graphic before production. In this way we could collaborate and evaluate the different elements before they all came together on location.

Whilst considering all the wishes of the future users, our aim was to create a space of tranquility in the city, where an attention to detail can be felt. We didn’t necessarily work with new materials but we worked on creating a level of accuracy. This can be seen in the execution of the larger grid, and how everything becomes  proportional of a single paver. The grid forms the new setup for the installation and vice versa and is readable from the macro to the micro scale. In the former design some vista lines were visible from the old city centre towards the station. Within the new design we re-introduced these lines in a subtle way. The diagonal sandblasted detail that cuts across the square create a visual connection from station to city and vice versa.

Artist: Marijke de Goey

Project location: dokter Reilinghplein & Stationsweg, Leerdam

Design year: 2017

Year Built: 2021

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