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Neon Secrets

1992. Leerdam, The Netherlands

In the beginning of the 1990s I received a commission from the city of Leerdam to design the town hall square. The aim of this was to reinforce the image of Leerdam as the city of glass in the Netherlands.

The town hall square is situated a bit asymmetrically in the old town centre of Leerdam. In cooperation with landscape architect Angrid Tilanus, the surface of the square was integrally designed. The station square had to be connected to the old town in an imaginative way. The Dokter Reilinghplein as the town hall square is called by its official name, situated in between, is partitioned by metal visual lines in the pavement. These are perspectival lines that focus the attention on the end of the lines and are arranged in such a way that a somewhat convex-shaped centre area is created. The drainage of the square passes through these blue visual lines as well. Sometimes these lines seem to run across the building of a bank. The town side already had a convergence point of lines in the form of an old-fashioned carillon. This could not be done away with, just like that. Nevertheless, I designed a new, very modern bell tower for this location. Through its three-dimensional nature, one experiences anew what was already on the surface of the square in two dimensions. It goes without saying that we had organized hearings and had to convince councillors. ‘We’ are myself as the spontaneous, emotional designer and Angrid with her experience to tactfully appease the commotion if and where necessary. This, the representatives liked a lot – the wild one and the well-balanced one. 

A square needs furniture in the public realm and a lot of green as well. The square is separated from its façade by placing espalier linden trees and simple wooden benches parallel to the blue lines, which we thereby emphasized as well. It had to be ‘low profile’ because it had to be low budget – as usual – too. 

The 49 glass cubes on the pincushion each have their own little figures. This inspiration I drew from the book Le Petit Prince, written by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, in which the protagonist follows the light from planet to planet. By way of feedback I engraved the names of all colleagues who took part in this project as well as friendly words for the inhabitants of Leerdam in the cubes. Examples are ‘love, tenderness, attention, affection, lust, faith’. 

Three days after the inauguration a truck collided with a cube. The foundation was smashed to smithereens. The glass cube, however, lay on its side but was undamaged – thanks to the solid construction of Roger De La Rive Box. Stainless steel strips on all corners and laminated polished glass with diagonal cuts, which safeguards that the glass does not protrude anywhere, makes them super strong and almost indestructible. They even resisted chisels and hammers, put in action on purpose. 

I always monitor the work process closely – details included. If and when it gets too difficult I engage experts, as the work of art has to be perfect, also from a technical point of view. In most cases I draw up a maintenance contract, in which I oblige the commissioner to keep the work of art in good condition. This is not always easy to achieve. It may not happen that the work of art looks neglected a few years later. The square in Leerdam is well utilized. People suffering from agoraphobia find some guidance there and children often play on and around the cubes.

It would be fabulous to create a ballet on the cubes (which I suggested to Hans van Manen, a world famous Dutch ballet choreographer) or a circus act with tigers. As is the case for each project, one needs a few enthusiasts. 

A new commission originated from the 49 Neon Secrets. Together with Angrid I designed a glass bench, a glass mushroom to indicate the touristic routes, as well as glass boulders (which were so beautiful that they were stolen very soon) to be installed on the quay along the river Linge in the Netherlands. I always try to push the limits. Providing everyone who enters the square or the quay in the evening with some kind of fairy tale feeling… 

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