Augmented Brickwork - Public Railway Passage Tilburg
The Willem II-passage is a new public space that connects the historical inner-city of Tilburg with the redevelopment area ‘De Spoorzone’ located along the railway. CIVIC architects and Bright Urban Futures have designed a sequence of urban spaces and the architecture of the railway underpass, which seamlessly tie together architecture, public space, cultural heritage and traffic nodes. A unique glass brick façade developed with Van Tetterode Glass Studio creates a familiar as well as a striking effect when cycling or walking through the underpass.

Slow traffic domain
The Willem II-passage is an import public route for cyclists and pedestrians, expanding and improving the domain for slow traffic 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’. This passage runs straight through a former railway workshop building and two new passages link a new restaurant, a public terrace and the former workers garden to both sides of the city. The passage draws activity and catalyses the transit oriented redevelopment of the Spoorzone. It is not only used to consolidate transport nodes, but 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 of the city with its traditions, innovative materials and urban atmospheres. through a process of designing, prototyping, testing and tinkering, together with Philips Lighting and Van Tetterode Glass Studio, we developed a refined, yet 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is not leading – it simply does what it is supposed to do and will operate for decades to come, succeeding where outdated high-tech has failed.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 urban sequence. A cross section through the rich (industrial) past and the future of the city. The passage feels familiar but also new and surprising.
The familiarity lies in the overall design of the tunnel: the composition of the plinth, the wall and its ceiling are a contemporary interpretation of the classic composition of the Willem II street. With the continuing rhythms in the Willem II street and the tunnel itself, the passage is not an exception but 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 it is applied on an industrial scale and in the Willem II street at a small-scale, in the detailed manner of typical Dutch facades. The standard Dutch brick size ’waalformaat’ inspired the glass bricks dimension, they are stacked and rotated at a 45-degree angle.

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 lighting effects and vice versa, during both the day and night. The facade is constructed with a newly developed type of glass, which is kiln fired several times to obtain its texture and transparency. It is an example of 21st century craftsmanship: it integrates craft artistry into 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. Interactive technology fades into the background, merging with familiar elements (such as stone, steel, green) and therefore becoming a natural part of the existing context. Approximately 30,000 built in LEDs create a stunning effect by a unique algorithm that generates dynamic lighting effects according to the time of the day, weather and movement of passers-by. During the day, the walls become more opaque white-gray, akin to its larger scale industrial context. During the night, the light offers a new, smaller scale as patterns appear in the brickwork. Never repetitive, the role of technology is not that of a protagonist, but that of a strong supporting cast. It prevents the passage to grow old by the aging of its technology and it enables it to become an everyday part of the public space network of the city.

  • Name: Willem II interactive passage
  • Location: Tilburg (NL)
  • Program: Routedesign, slow traffic tunnel
  • Size: 3.500 m²
  • Commission: Routedesign, finishing, productdevelopment, SD, DD, CD, B&N, CA
  • Period: 2012-2017
  • Client: Municipality of Tilburg
  • Team: Ingrid van der Heijden, Gert Kwekkeboom, Jan Lebbink, Rick ten Doeschate, Gerjan Streng, Niels Boswinkel
  • Partners: Bright Urban Futures, Philips, Tetterode, AvecoDeBondt, WSP, Volker Wessels, Michielsen
  • Images: Stijn Bollaert, Civic Architects, GlobalEyes Productions

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