Afsluitdijk (Closure Dike) Interpretives

Finding Closure

Monumental interpretives help mark the 75th anniversary of one of the Netherlands’ engineering wonders.

The history of the Netherlands is the history of a people struggling to keep the sea at bay. One of the major chapters in that story is the mighty Afsluitdijk (Closure Dike), built between 1927 and 1933 as part of a system to dam off the Zuiderzee saltwater inlet and link the western and northern regions of the country. The 32-kilometer (19 mile) megadike represents an important event in the Netherland’s history and is considered a work of art.

2007 marked the dike’s 75th anniversary, and a new visitor center was opened to honor its history and recognize its socioeconomic and environmental impacts. Because the dike is so long, three large-scale interpretive landmarks were also created along its surface, each covering a specific topic related to its history.

The massive scale of the dike and the heavy winds that blow across it called for “stout objects,” says Matt van Santvoord, principal of 2D3D Designers (The Hague). The team’s goal was to bring form to the strength inherent in both the water and in the structure designed to hold it back.

At either end of the dike, they positioned 500x200x40 cm (16- by 6.5- by 1.3-ft.) concrete monoliths, designed with rounded corners to mimic the dike design and withstand severe weather. They’re skinned in ceramic tiles designed by 2D3D and fired at the celebrated Royal Tichelaar Makkum pottery works.

“When you look at a cross section of the dike, you will see no sharp corners,” notes van Santvoord. “We also had to look for form solutions that could cope with the severe climate conditions. These objects are almost the only obstacles on the dike. That’s why they’re made of concrete with a heavy foundation, and finished at the top with double-curved tiles.”

The structures were sited to provide breathtaking views of the sea and Dutch Wadden Islands to the north and the IJsselmeer (the great freshwater lake formed by the dike) to the south. Stairs built into each of the monoliths invite children and their families to climb on the structures and interact with the information found there, including stats on the heights of various cities in relation to sea level.

The third interpretive element is a 600x600 cm (20-ft. square) tile map of the Netherlands, providing a geographic perspective of the dike system. Use of the ceramic tile posed some significant challenges in the project, says van Santvoord. After an initial baking, images are transferred to the hardened tiles via transfers (1 transfer per color) produced through a process similar to silkscreening. “It has to be a very accurate job, with very little tolerances,” he explains. “During the baking process, the pigments are flowing in the edges a bit and the registrations have to be very exact. If done well, though, it creates beautifully sharp images.”



Client:  Rijkswaterstaat (Ministry of Traffic and Water Management)

Design:  2D3D Designers

Design Team:  Matt van Santvoord (principal in charge), Rene van Raalte, Veerle Vreeke, Anke Sentker, Gerben Starink, Haiko Oosterbaan, Joost Agterberg, Matthijs Coops

Consultants:  Dieben & Meijer Communication (concept and content development)

Fabrication:  Brandwacht en Meijer Exhibits (exhibit construction), Royal Tichelaar Makkum (tiles), Mansveld (media), Studio America (print), Eurorouting (routing and lettering)

Photos:  Jurjen Poels

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