The Willem II-passage is a new public space, that connects the historical inner-city of Tilburg with the railway redevelopment area ‘De Spoorzone’. CIVIC architects together with Bright, designed an award-winning sequence of spaces which seamlessly tie together architecture, public space, cultural heritage and traffic space. A specifically designed and produced glass brick façade creates a familiar but surprisingly striking effect.
Public domain The Willem II-passage is an import public route for cyclists and pedestrians, enlarging and improving the public domain in Tilburg. It extends the historical Willem II street under the railway and functions as an inviting gateway to the once forgotten city ‘on the wrong side of the tracks’. The passage runs straight through a former railway workshop building and links a new restaurant, a public terrace and the former workers garden to both sides of the city. The passage catalyzes the transit oriented redevelopment of the Spoorzone and also accommodates cultural events.
Homegrown icon The design of the underpass is based on its public significance and cultural durability. Its iconic identity is inspired by the existing city. The materials, rhythm and composition of the passage refer to the classical brick architecture of the Willem II street – in a contemporary manner. The design combines the familiarity with the traditions of the city with innovative materials and urban atmospheres. In a process of designing, prototyping, testing and tinkering, together with Philips Lighting and Van Tetterode Glass Studio, we developed a refined but robust luminous glass brick façade. Technology is not leading – it simply does what it is supposed to do and will operate for decades to come, succeeding where outdated high-tech has failed.
A familiar surprise The Willem II passage portrays a typical The Willem II passage portrays a typical urban sequence. A cross section through the rich (industrial) past and future of the city. The passage feels familiar: The composition of the plinth, the wall and its ceiling are a contemporary interpretation of the classic composition of the Willem II street, turning the passage into a natural part of the urban network. Familiar and at the same time surprising is the use of material: The facade is constructed with 30.000 handmade glazed ’bricks’. Brick is a common material in Tilburg, in the Spoorzone applied on an industrial scale and in the Willem II street small-scale, in the detailed manner of typical Dutch facades.
Innovative craftsmanship The passage is technically innovative. It consists of robust hardware (floors, ceilings and facades) and interactive software (lighting, odor and sound). The design for the façade is daring: the wall structure inspires and directs the light effects and vice versa. The facade is constructed with a newly developed type of glass. It has been the oven several times to obtain the current texture and transparency. It is an example of 21st century craftsmanship: it combines craft artistry with a one-time large-scale application. The unique glass product has been widely applied using a scaled-up craft manufacturing process.
Hybrid of physical and digital experiences The passage is socially safe, while refraining from conventional safety devices. Interactivity fades into the background, merging with familiar elements such as stone, steel, green. Approximately 30,000 built-in LEDs create a stunning effect. A unique algorithm generates dynamic light effects that are responsive to the time of the day, weather and movement of passers-by. During the day, the walls are white-gray, its bricks massive. During the night, the light increases; patterns appear. Never repetitive, the role of technology is not that of a protagonist, but that of a strong supporting cast. It prevents the passage from growing old by the aging of its technology.
The architecture of the Willem II passage leaves a lasting impression that is designed to be intriguing both in 30 days and 30 years after completion. Familiar, self-evident and robust. Innovative, rich and refined. The passage is built to last.