Delft’s old railway station has been repurposed. The end product is an architectural beauty, with an eye-catching use of ceramic. The construction site was off limits to the public but when everything was ready, and Delft’s new railway station opened its doors, it was instantly clear that the architecture firm Mecanoo had pulled out all the stops. The determination to maintain the historic legacy of Delft, the traditional seat of the Prince of Orange, was clearly reflected in the design: a concept that Mecanoo took seriously, because the firm is also located in Delft, not far from the new station.
The first thing visitors notice is a huge map in the ceiling of the spacious station hall, executed in shades of Delft blue. This timeless ceramic classic was also the inspiration for the cladding on columns and walls. The result was a modern take on Gaudí, with a trencadis mosaic comprising pieces of broken tile in the same shades traditionally used in Delft blue ceramics.
In the design phase, architect Francine Houben played with the idea of making the columns entirely out of ceramic. Given the organic shape of the station hall, putting ceramic cladding on the columns all the way to the ceiling would have meant using tiles with a three-dimensional curve. That would have been extremely difficult to achieve and unreasonably expensive. A mosaic was the best way to give the trumpet-shaped columns a modern interpretation of Delft blue ceramic. The most logical option was to work with traditional mosaic tiles, but that implementation didn’t match the architect’s intended image. She felt that broken mosaic, famously used by Gaudí, was the best solution.
In the design phase, Mecanoo worked with Mosa to put together the right tile combination. The goal was to create an association with Delft blue ceramic in travellers’ minds. To this end, the architectural firm researched the proportions of the various shades of blue in combination with white in original delft blue ceramic. The final result was 58% white and 42% blue, spread out among light, medium, and dark blue. The starting point was Mosa’s famous 150 by 150mm Colors range, which many architects use commercial toilets and kitchens. Here the range was used in an entirely new way. In consultation with the tile manufacturer, Mecanoo indicated what sizes they wanted the pieces to be. In the first version, several sharp edges stuck out past the smaller circle formed by the cylindrical columns. In those instances, smaller measurements were needed.
When it came time to apply the tiles, the question arose of who would break the tiles and how a pattern could be achieved that was as even as possible. The idea of delivering loose tile pieces was quickly rejected. Mosa solved the issue at its Maastricht HQ. There Mosa employees broke the tiles, selected them on the basis of size, and glued the pieces together in the right proportions to form mosaic tiles measuring 300 by 300mm. When the tiles were tested on location, the nets could be clearly seen. Mosa adjusted the edges so that the tiles touched each other in such a way that the nets were no longer visible. The result is lively yet harmonious. It is a modern interpretation of Delft blue ceramic in a down-to-earth Dutch manner. The flamboyant approach, favoured by Gaudí, would have looked out of place in a Dutch railway station annex municipal offices.
The fact that the tiles were delivered on mats also proved to be important for the application of the tiles. This enabled the tiling company – Unimar Tegelwerken – to complete the entire project in nine weeks using just two people. If the tiles had been delivered loosely that would have been impossible. The architect also wanted the joint to be as small as possible. This was also something that was easier to achieve in Mosa’s ‘mosaic lab’ than at the construction site.
SOURCE: TegelTotaal magazine. Author: Matthijs Pronker
A new post by Joe Simpson, Diary of a Tile Addict, May 2017.