Art Meets Construction in Utrecht

One of the many nice things about living in Utrecht is that when plywood walls go up during restoration or renovation of a property, they often become points of visual interest in their own right. Certainly, when some of the university buildings along the Drift were undergoing renovation last year, the decorations that went up made an eye-catching and fun graphic story.

This time, walls are going up in the area behind the new Vredenburg music palace, where the old Hoog Catharijne shopping center is going under massive renovations and reconstructions.
Construction and Art
Edging the western side of the large square where the outdoor markets are held Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, this bit of urban art gets the kind of viewership numbers artists (and bloggers) dream about. After all, location, location, location!

Looking at each of the images and panels, there are some great characters and visuals to catch your imagination. One of the most famous is the red-hatted gnome on the far right. That’s Utrecht’s own KBTR (kabouter/gnome) who pops up in various spots around town for the past six or seven years. The rest of his out-of-this-world companions can be seen from right to left and represent a few other Utrecht symbols and institutions, such as the Nederland Film Festival and, of course, Nijntje. Any others you recognize?
KBTR VredenburgVredenbearsVredenburg KunstVredenijntjeVredenburg action shotvredenburg liftoff

Free Wi-Fi in Utrecht

Domplein Festivities
A pilot program exploring the benefit and use of free WiFi in Utrecht has begun. For the rest of the year, free WiFi will be available at four of the city’s main squares: Domplein, Neude, Stadhuisplein, and Vredenburg.

It kicked off at Neude last Friday and I stopped by on Saturday and sure enough, it was working. The rest of the squares have gone online this week. So if you’re in town and want some free WiFi access, now you know where to go. No special passwords needed.

Edited 6/10/14: By the end of 2014, there will be free wifi throughout the city center and it will also be available at Griftpark and Willhelminapark.

Edited: July 2015: There is free wifi throughout the city center and at the spots mentioned above, as well as on Biltstraat and other individual locations outside the city center. In other words, there is extensive free wifi throughout Utrecht. Enjoy!

Looking Out


Time Travel: Rietveld’s Bioscoop

Vreeburg Bioscoop
(photo via Het Utrechts Archief)

One of my favorite Dutch words is bioscoop (cinema). It seems appropriate therefore that one of my favorite words should tie in with one of my favorite architects. You see, from 1936 until 1958, the top floor of this building is where Gerrit Rietveld lived. He was also responsible for the redesign of the building, including the fantastic facade.

The interior of the theater itself was glamorous neo-baroque, while the floor that the Rietvelds lived on was more in keeping with the Spartan simplicity of his preferred style. The facade is a fantastic modern design featuring light boxes covered in milk glass, which could be lit up each night to advertise the theater’s name: Vreeburg Bioscoop. The facade was both eye-catching and functional.

The building itself still stands, although the interior has been changed considerably. It no longer houses an ornate cinema and the Rietveld floor seems to have been taken over by a company called Internet Advantage. The ground floor is home to Esprit, selling clothing that always seems that little bit too expensive for what it is.

Fortunately, the light boxes remain. They may no longer spell anything out, but they do light up, changing colors from moment to moment. Amazingly, the light show doesn’t seem to be part of the Trajectum Lumen route. It’s just a nice bit of color and style, simply for the sake of it. As Oscar Wilde would say, art for art’s sake.

Colourful Rietveld

Rietveld Bioscoop


New Look, Old Building

Since we moved here, the western end of town has seen constant construction due to the renovation/rebuilding of the Vredenburg Music Hall. The building was originally constructed in 1979 and has hosted a variety of concerts and musical events, but it was becoming a bit shabby and too small, so a new music palace is under construction. Two of the main halls of the original building remain, but they have been encased in a larger, more opulent structure.

The rebuilding is just one part of the CU2030 revitalization project that is part of a major reworking of that whole side of town, including the music hall, the Hoog Catharijne shopping center, the train station, and the highway that’s being turned back into a canal. In other words, it’s all a big, ugly mess these days.

There’s a large square behind the music hall, which is where the local market is held on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. That’s the part I usually see, but I’ve been seeing other parts of it in the past couple of weeks as I’ve headed to the train station a few times. While heading home one day, I snapped a couple of shots of the new fa├žade of the building, with the Domtoren off in the distance on the right.


I’m not sure how I feel about the new building. It’s not that it’s modern in design; I think my hesitancy stems mainly from the fact that the whole area is still under construction, so it’s hard to not think of it all as cramped and busy. I’m sure once the work is completed on the whole area — including reopening the canal where the car in the top photo is — it will feel more open and clean and balanced. The plans for the area, which can be seen on the CU2030 website (in Dutch and English) do look appealing and certainly nicer than what we’ve got now!


I still worry that the older buildings across the street (seen above) will be overshadowed by this new music palace, but I’ll reserve judgement until it’s all finished. Amusingly, another palace of sorts once stood on roughly the same ground. The Vredenburg Castle, although short-lived, was constructed in that area in 1532. You can read more about it, including how Trijn and a group of women tore it down, at the castle’s Wikipedia page.

For what it’s worth, here’s a time-lapse video of the spot taken on the same day I took my photo. There are also live webcams available on the CU2030 website. You can get a better sense of how the new structure seems to tower over the nearby buildings.

Return of the Utrecht Moat

The other day I saw this video thanks to the 24oranges blog. I know the areas being discussed, but didn’t realize that the area first mentioned had been at risk of being built up into a large motorway. As it is, it’s a beautiful, peaceful neighborhood, with trees lining the canal. It’s where I spent part of my first Koninginnedag here, and where I enjoy taking Pippo for a quiet walk.

I thought I’d post a few of my photos of the area to give you another view of some of the areas being discussed.
Life Is Good
Boulevard Canal
Mooie Brug

I might not have known that the one area in the north of the city had been at risk, but I did know about the “shortest motorway”. It’s over by the Vredenburg on the eastern edge of the city, near the station. The traffic is gone now and they’re definitely working to return the water to that spot. My first year here, I did a bit of a then-and-now project for my parents, based on a calendar of old photos I bought for them for Christmas. As you can see here, this is a photo of the main street through Utrecht. The bridge is crossing over what was then the canal.
When I took my photo of the same area in 2008, some parts looked surprisingly similar, but other parts were quite different. The road had widened, obviously, but it was no longer water running under the bridge; it was cars. The motorway was open until this year.

I’m certainly glad they never expanded the motorway. It would ruin some of the beauty of the city. I’m also quite happy to see that the water is returning to the motorway that was built. With all the renovation and construction going on in that part of town, hopefully the end result will be an improvement to the already beautiful city.