The Blue Axis

The canal winding its way through the city of Assen had an industrial function for most of the twentieth century. In the twenty-first century it is envisioned as the Blue Axis, a spacious water corridor along which residents and visitors can experience the city and the landscape from the land and especially from the water. Locks and bridges will be replaced or renewed to upgrade the canal. In order to renovate the waterway a new bridge had to be built, one that could be opened quickly and easily to welcome pleasure boats into the city. This bridge, at one of the most important intersections in the city, was planned to be the highlight of a series of bridges over the canal. A bridge that was not only functional but a landmark as well. This resulted in The Blue Bridge (De Blauwe Klap), designed by ZJA Zwarts & Jansma Architects.

A contemporary drawbridge

Slender yet sturdy is the impression the silhouette of the bridge gives when seen from a distance. Coming closer two aspects stand out. First, the minimal and light design that is still able to control the immense forces and weights. Secondly, the striking shapes of what the layman would call the counterweights. The professional terms are balance box and balance prong that appear here in four parts, two massive balance boxes and the split balance prongs. They look like two sets of slender wings. Around the bridge vertical elements demand little attention in order for the bridge to appear in its full glory as if on an open square.

From the front, from the road, the bridge appears strong and modest. Seen from the water however, from the side, the Blue Bridge shows the expressive and playful aspects of the design.

Open and closed

If you have to wait for the bridge to open, you might as well enjoy a remarkable and attractive view. That is the intention of the design for the Blue Bridge. When it opens it becomes apparent that the car and bicycle lanes have separate decks, so four separate decks go up between which a glimpse of sky can be seen. The sensation is watching something that is incredibly heavy yet seems weightless. Then there is the miracle of the drawbridge arms, so fluid and elegant as they right themselves. The elements of the mechanism fit into each other around the hinge and for as long as the bridge is upright perform the role of a proud, exuberant and useful sculpture, just like that, in the middle of Assen. Whoever is still not visually entertained can spend some time reading the poem printed on the up righted deck.

         To avoid any misunderstanding:

         This is no bridge built for educated types

         Everybody may cross

        

         People with an education, people without

         People with money or those who are destitute

         People on foot or sporting wheels

 

         This bridge is up and open for all

The environment

This design by ZJA is not all about ingenuity and the looks of the bridge. The fences are designed to dissolve when viewed from the water, that is how narrow the bars are. For the approaching traffic however these same fences guide the attention in the right direction, for maximum clarity. During the day the bridge shows a light appearance that towers above the surroundings, proud and headstrong. After sundown the bridge is caught in upward aiming spotlight at street level while under the deck a blue diffuse light scatters across the water, creating a pleasurable and safe image. At the abutments extra space is created, in order to better enjoy an open view from the water and from the banks, and better appreciate the beauty and utility of the Blue Bridge over the Blue Axis.

Awards: Nominated for the European Steel Bridge Awards 2016

Client: Gemeente Assen
Principal: Van Hattum en Blankevoort
Consultants: Royal HaskoningDHV and MEP:Vialis
Year: 2015

Project: #742

Photographs: Eric Bakker Fotografie