The Building

The Building: Schimmelplein

Utrecht is dotted with special architecture, which you bike past regularly but know very little about. Take the modern Schimmelplein in the Nieuw Engeland neighbourhood, with its striking blue tiles.

Blue, blue, electric blue – the designers of Schimmelplein must have had this David Bowie song in mind when they decided to use bright blue tiles to redevelop the square in 1995. They’re on the wall that divides the square in half, the low walls near the ramps and even on a small house. The other features are equally striking: a neat screen of plane trees, ornate old-fashioned benches, flat, colourful seating, a round folly, and systemised sections of diverse paving stones. Nevertheless, confined by the surrounding buildings and constantly in use, the square forms a well-balanced entity.

This square is one big playground. It always on, even at the time of the pyjama incident, which took place in 1978 when it was bigger and barer than now. My sister and I had new navy-blue pyjamas with purple edging and a breast pocket. We saw them as trendy tracksuits (which were in at the time) and took to wearing our pyjamas during the day. Not to school, but on this particular day, to Schimmelplein. We didn’t get to play much because on arrival, we were confronted by two mouthy kids, who told us in no uncertain terms that we were still wearing our pyjamas. Things escalated when my sister replied that we weren’t, and that these were tracksuits. Slightly shaken by the incident, we headed back home.

Schimmelplein 1964 (c) P.J. van Alff

The 1990 lay-out and the school on Schimmelplein were designed by the architectural office Sluijmer and Van Leeuwen, an innovative Utrecht firm with a feeling for existing context and a sense of boldness. Had it existed, the architects should have won a local lifetime award for their architectural mini-statements, such as the equally blue Sandwich houses on Nobeldwarsstraat, the spectacular Kleinste Huisje on Kromme Nieuwegracht, and the sustainable BILT principle in the Leidsche Rijn neighbourhood. Schimmelplein was nominated for the Rietveld Prize in 1997, but didn’t win. The jury thought that it lacked emotion…

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