In the second half of the Dutch post-war reconstruction era, after the damages were restored, there was room for innovation and experimentation in architecture and art. This trend fitted well with the Dutch Railways's desire for a fresh and modern look.
The young architect Koen van der Gaast introduced a new kind of railway station using expressive shapes and modern materials.
In the stations of the post-war period monumental art played an important role: grand works of art that were inseparable from the architecture. Reliefs, windows and mosaics depicted coming and going travelers.
by Arjan den Boer
Monumental art on public buildings flourished during the post-war reconstruction period, encouraged by government commissions and grants. Murals, colored windows and reliefs appeared on schools, stations and public offices.
Initially his work was a mixture between that of his rivaling predecessors. He combined the functionalism of Schelling with some graceful curves in the manner of Van Ravesteyn.
Artists could experiment with new techniques and materials, provided that the representation was understandable for everyone and contributed to a community spirit. Around 1960 there came room for more abstract art.
Van der Gaast developed an expressive modernist style, ultimately resulting in a new kind of open railway stations without a facade.
Van der Gaast was averse to Van Ravesteyn's sculpture colonnades. However, he commissioned monumental works of art at strategic locations in his buildings. He preferred the use of large surfaces and smooth materials. Thematically the works of art referred to the station as a transit area for coming and going travelers.
Van der Gaast designed some stations with J. H. Baas as his co-architect. Baas had assisted Van Ravesteyn and was also an ad-hoc artist. He designed the Rotterdam Central Station sculptures — known as the 'gingerbread biscuits' — when Henry Moore proved too expensive.
The frontal view of the station with its large glass facade and slightly curved roof made many people think of a Philips radio. Built on a wide mezzanine behind the facade, the restaurant overlooked the city.
Van der Gaast's first major station was Eindhoven, part of an overall plan for the city center which was bombed in 1944. It lived up to a new vision of the station as a transit area instead of a space for staying in. The spacious traffic court on a main road allowed for an easy transfer to car or bus.
An open and inviting glass facade emphasized the dynamic setup, while the sides were lined with yellow brick.
In the large station concourse all amenities were organized together. The north wall automatically led to the passenger underpass, which was marked by a colorful window above.
Near the entrance a stone relief connected train travel with the journey of life using a quote by poet A. Roland Holst.
The work of art was a gift by Eindhoven industrialists. Sculptor Willy Mignot (1915-1972) was from a local manufacturing family himself.
Artist Lex Horn (1916-1968) made the decorated windows for the Eindhoven station. The large one above the underpass is like a thirty-panel cartoon depicting typical Dutch economic activities such as shipping, cattle breeding and dike construction. Horn also created three small round windows. They show migratory birds symbolizing the appetite for travel.
In Horn's view modern architecture asked for a new approach to glass art, using large surfaces and emphasizing the transparency of glass. He was the first to introduce the glass appliqué technique: pieces of colored glass glued on clear glass without lead contours. His expressive use of color was reminiscent to his painting contemporaries of Cobra.
The Venlo station concourse resembled that of Eindhoven, but was even more inviting with a large glass facade and a roof extended further. As a border station it had to be a showcase for the Netherlands and a landmark for the city.
Because of the distance to other buildings Van der Gaast situated the station at the level of the raised tracks. A wide landing with stairs leading up to the station made the building appear even higher.
Originally the station restaurant formed a single space with the large concourse, only separated by a glass wall. Later additions made the hall somewhat congested.
Wavy bands of green and ocher on the large glass facade had to compensate the cool frontal daylight.
On the concourse wall hung a metal work of art by Jac Schrage (1924) depicting railway workers. On top of the landing there was a stone sculpture group by Piet Killaars (1922-), entitled 'The Travelers'.
In Almelo Van der Gaast introduced a new concept: an expressive roof covering both the entrance building and part of the forecourt. Wide steel roof sections resting on a huge sleeper were supported by V-shaped columns. The station was a transitional space designed for a smooth transfer to other modes of transport.
From the street, both the ticket offices and the trains were visible. The station — more a structure than a building — was no obstacle between the city and the railway. Shape and materials contributed to the modern image of the Dutch Railways.
Like Van der Gaast's other major stations, Almelo was given a clock tower as a vertical element, doubling as a chimney.
Above the entrance is a cast aluminum sculpture. It is said to be an abstract rendering of the city name of Almelo, as written in an unreadable angular script.
It was created by J. H. Baas, the station's co-architect who previously designed the Rotterdam Central Station sculptures.
A scintillating blue and green window marks the entrance of the underpass to the Almelo platforms. Printmaker and glass artist Willem Heesen (1925-2007) entitled it The Departure. The composition, made up of triangular shapes, depicts departing travelers and figures staying behind waving them goodbye. Two circles with abstracted faces stand out between the sharp angles.
Heesen applied a variant of the glass appliqué technique: glass fusing. The glass pieces ware not glued to one another but fused in the oven with pigment between the layers. The dynamic window fits well with the airly and transparent station with its V-shaped columns.
Van der Gaast's architectural style became increasingly expressive and almost futuristic. Tilburg station is considered his masterpiece. Here he fully carried out the 'umbrella' concept: a grand canopy as a unifying element covering buildings, platforms and part of the station square.
The 50 by 150 meter large airily canopy consists of twelve curved shell roofs forming one large undulating shape. By using as few bases as possible — only four concrete yokes and six steel pylons — the dynamic roof seems to float. The technically very innovative construction was tested with models in a wind tunnel.
Tilburg station does not have a roof, it is a roof.
In the early 1960s the Dutch railways had to cut back due to the competition from road transport. Yet the grand railway station could be realized because of the city of Tilburg's financial support. Its mayor wanted a 'station of thunder and violence'.
The regional artist Piet Buys created nine glass mosaics for the Tilburg station entrance. They fitted perfectly with the architecture, yet their commission was almost a coincidence. In 1965 Van der Gaast visited an exhibition opposite to the station under construction. There Buys's work apparently pleased the architect.
Using blue pieces of glass with red accents Buys depicted arriving and departing passengers in a cartoonish way. Seen from aside, mosaics and passers-by seem to merge seamlessly. The diagonal lines of the composition suggest movement — just like those of the building itself, whose floating canopy seems to wave from the turbulence of the trains.
Some ten years after Tilburg, Van der Gaast designed the new Utrecht and The Hague central stations and adjoining office towers. The contrast to the transparent 1960s stations was huge. They mainly consisted of rough prefabricated concrete elements. This kind of large-scale architecture with its structure left visible is called brutalism.
Prerequisites were optimum use of the area for offices and retail and maximum integration of public and private transport. Providing a welcoming environment for coming and going travelers had no priority anymore. Monumental art had no place in these stations.
In 1983 Van der Gaast retired for health reasons. Some of his designs for smaller stations were implemented afterwards.
Van der Gaast has also been active in the field of design. He was president of an international commission on signage and pictograms. In 1968 he also co-initiated the new Dutch Railways corporate identity.
In the 1980s Van der Gaast's 'umbrella' concept was reused in Almere, Lelystad and Amsterdam Sloterdijk station.
In 2013 the railway stations of Almelo and Tilburg were nominated as listed buildings of national importance. The Eindhoven station had already acquired this status in 2009.
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Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed: Beeldbank
NAi/BONAS: Ir. Gaast, Koenraad G. van der
Architectuur in Rotterdam: Leve de speculaasjes!
Wikipedia: Koen van der Gaast