The Blue Road

A link worth checking out is from Dutch artist Henk Hofstra who painted roadways vibrant blue to symbolize hidden watercourses in the 2007 piece entitled ‘The Blue Road’.

:: images via Henk Hofstra

“In April 2007… a road in Drachten, The Netherlands, is painted blue to symbolise the water. It is 1000 meters long and 8 meters wide. It was created to form an urban river and recreate the path of a waterway that used to be where the road currently runs. They will start to dig a new canal here in 2008. The text WATER IS LEVEN is written on the blue road. The water will bring back life again in the centre of Drachten.”

:: images via Henk Hofstra

It’s definitely compelling from a large-scale, but also from a pedestrian scale as the contrast with the drab gray of the cityscape is dynamic at either. It brings up interesting connotations of the way we paint our roads and public sphere to create a complex network of symbols utilizing a bright contrast on a grey canvas – such as the functional bright green Portland bike boxes, or the community building and often terribly executed idea of paint in the service of intersection repairs. Rarely do these take the scale and depth of expression as shown in Hofstra’s work here and the purity is quite stunning.

:: images via Henk Hofstra

The metaphor goes even further (maybe a bit too far) with a sub-installation that shows a car being swallowed at the bank, by the reclaimed ‘riverscape’. I get the idea as a piece of whimsy, but not the most compelling part of the installation by far. Maybe if the car weren’t blue, and there were paved ‘ripples’ emanating out, it would be more successful. I guess that’s my opinion, and doesn’t really mean much in the big picture of this project – a detail only.

:: image via Henk Hofstra

Also, the linearity of the ‘river’ in this case seems to downplay the naturalness of topography and hydrology – but as it is the Netherlands, it’s likely that old waterway was perhaps man-made and arrow straight. The juxtaposition of the man-made upon the natural is a challenge but somehow an opportunity… while both rivers and streets work on models of efficiency and movement, there are radically different mechanisms at play. The linear path give the opportunity for a much more abrupt statement, translated ‘Water is Life’ in large text upon the full length of the roadway.

:: image via Henk Hofstra

In Portland, there’s been talk of taking the disappeared streams map to a larger scale – to do something like this showing the hidden pathway of previous streams in the City, those crossing roadways or meandering through neighborhoods… and abstracted ‘daylighting’ project, or a full-scale mapping exercise confronting us daily with what was, and could be. Powerful stuff.

spotted via Daniel Lerch on Facebook

4 thoughts on “The Blue Road

  1. Doing something similar with the hidden streams in Portland would be very cool, at least in the downtown area where so much of the view of the city is atop a tall building.

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