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Pixel Tunnel

For a bicycle tunnel in Zaandam, designers Overtreders W, Maartje Dros and Erik Klarenbeek asked local residents to send in pixel drawings of what they were most proud of in their city, and compiled this into a colourful mosaic onto the walls.

By Jeanne Tan / 03-12-2009

The region of Zaanstad north west of Amsterdam, is famous for its centuries old windmills, the Zaan river, mustard, cocoa, linoleum, industrial countryside and characteristic green timber houses.

For those who commute to Amsterdam on their bicycles or scooters from Zaandam, the region's main city, the lead up to the obligatory ferry crossing through grey industrial terrain is pretty bleak. But there's one small section that brings a ray of sunshine to the route: a lively, tiled bicycle tunnel filled with colourful images from the region. Every time you cycle through it, there's always a new section to discover.

When Overtreders W (Reinder Bakker and Hester van Dijk), Maartje Dros and Eric Klarenbeek received the commission from the Zaanstad City Council to design a bicycle tunnel in Zaandam, they immediately established several conditions: the walls of the tunnel had to be 'graffiti proof', there was to be an image of some sort that reflected something of the people and region and local residents could have the opportunity to contribute to the project. With this in mind, a material was chosen that was pragmatic in allowing the easy removal of graffiti and more importantly, had a strong visual impact: tiles. This also simplified the process of creating the images, as one tile (10 x 10cm) available in a palette of 14 colours, would represent one pixel.

Working in close collaboration, the designers set the brief to residents: submit drawings composed of pixels that showed what they were most proud about in their city. A website Pixelpoort was established that allowed participants to make pixel drawings, save their image and submit it. "We put a lot of effort in making the website known in Zaanstad; we went 'flyering' for a few days in the city centre and near the location for the tunnel, we got in touch with a school teacher who let her pupils make drawings, there was an item on Radio TV Noord Holland (the local television station). As a result more than 800 people participated," explains Hester van Dijk from Overtreders W (meaning trespassers in Dutch). "Some people got really enthusiastic about it and made about 20 different drawings, some of them very elaborate. The final design, composed of (parts of) the most inspiring images, reveals some of the dreams and nightmares of the Zaankanters (Zaan residents)."

The submssions can be viewed on the Pixelpoort website (under Inzendingen) and even though the project has been completed, residents (or anyone for that matter) can still have a go at creating the pixel drawings.

Photography: Jorn van Eck (main image and images 1-3)
Images 4&5: Maartje Dros

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