“The world we live in can sometimes be brutal and careless. But everybody has a right to ‘Schoonheid’ *. That’s how I want to design for people.” – Daan Roosegaarde (artist and innovator)
*’Schoonheid‘ is a special Dutch word that can be translated with beauty, aesthetics and purity at the same time…)
This is just one of many inspirational quotes from our recent press trip to the city of Rotterdam, the Netherlands. A trip that will also have you look at Rotterdam from a different angle: architecture & design!
City in transformation
I love visiting cities. It’s the vibe I like, the structured chaos of millions who have to live together on a limited piece of land. The place where residential life moves higher and higher up in the sky to escape from the cluttered diversity on the ground. Cities are terrible to one, but poetic to others.
Rotterdam is the largest city in the Netherlands. A city in transformation. Destroyed in World War II, it has shown a continuous drive to build, grow and transform. Within this transformation process it’s important to keep citizens connected to the urban change happening around them. Because sometimes it just goes to fast…
Cities are constantly evolving. The value of buildings is determined not only by the design they carry but also by the acceptance of city residents. The quality of living and the connection of residents to their city is the focus of many architects. It’s interesting to talk to architects and designers about their ambition and the process of creation, and that’s exactly what we did during this trip early June.
As part of our architecture & design press trip we visited wonderful places and met inspiring people. Thanks to Rotterdam Partners for the opportunity to meet architects, designers, innovators and artists and witness the transformation of Rotterdam from nearby.
Rotterdam: make it happen
Rotterdam is not like Amsterdam. If you are traveling to the Netherlands and want to see something different, go and visit Rotterdam!
Dutch designer and artist Daan Roosegaarde compared both cities: “Amsterdam is a city that looks for confirmation the way they are. Rotterdam however, looks for what it can become.”
From a travel perspective both cities of course have a lot to offer. But Rotterdam has a new foundation whose importance is growing fast: creativity & design. Like a vortex it draws everything that happens in the city towards this new identity. Roosegaarde says: “Now that most of the manufacturing industry has left to make room for the service sector, creativity is our true capital.” I’ll show you later how Roosegaarde himself turns creativity into (artistic) urban solutions.
Architecture: Rotterdam’s new asset
Rotterdam attracts architects from all over the world to visit for example the Markthal, the Cube Houses and DeRotterdam (more about these in part 2 of this post). All of them examples of creativity in the city’s approach to excel in architecture and sustainable design.
Rotterdam’s current evolution is an intentional one, executed by some of the countries smartest architects. They will strive to prevent an urbanized mess, a disorganized bunch of skyscrapers only driven by a primal urge to just build higher and higher.
If you are interested in architecture and design, you will love this post and value Rotterdam for what it wants to become. However, this post is not only about urban change and architecture, for this still is a travel blog! In part 2 especially I will also show you some of the city’s hidden gems that should be on the itinerary of each traveler to Rotterdam (architecture lover or not)!
1. On Rotterdam rooftops
A city always looks different from above. Let’s give you a glimpse of how Rotterdam looks like from a different angle, because it offers lots of possibilities to do so! Firstly: the Stairs.
Climb to celebrate resurrection: The Stairs
When we arrived for our press trip and walked out of Central Station we noticed an art project that can only happen in Rotterdam: The Stairs.
This eye-catcher (29 meters high, 57 meters long and 180 steps to the top of the adjacent building) was designed by MVRDV architects. The idea behind the stairs is to celebrate 75 years of rebuilding the city after WWII: the resurrection of Rotterdam.
These gigantic stairs have been taken down on 19 June 2016 and has attracted lots of visitors during its physical existence. Being a temporary landmark, it offered people a unique (rooftop) view on a city in transformation (especially the new and impressive diagonal building of the Central Station – called the Shark by residents).
And it even looked awesome at night!
According to Leon van Geest (one of the organizers of the Rotterdam Rooftop days) flat roofs give space to a city. He is fascinated by rooftops; it allows you to discover new landscapes and to see urban life from a different perspective. Rotterdam has 1km2 of unused flat roofs in the city center alone, so there is a lot to discover!
From 10-12 June 2016, 35 roofs opened up for the public during the Rooftop Days (Dakendagen). Dutch slogan for this event: “Je kan het dak op”. Which literally means “You can go up the roof” but has a second, funny meaning: ‘Bugger off!‘.
This event is unique because 33 roofs were only accessible during this single weekend! 7 roofs were over 60 meters high. Here are some views that we enjoyed during our visit. I will be back next year because I already want more of this!
2. Art galleries
Rotterdam gives floor to artists who think about the society we live in. They intend to make the city a better place through art and design. Let’s have a look at some of these innovators that we visited during our trip.
Studio Roosegaarde: ‘schoonheid’ in the public domain
Daan Roosegaarde is a famous Dutch artist whose ambition is to create (interactive) designs that explore the relation between people, technology and public space. Rotterdam was the perfect place for Roosegaard to build his social design lab; a city in transformation and always searching for the balance of modern progress and local connection.
Daan’s artwork is world-famous. His website shows a great overview of all his projects. Personally I like ‘Windlicht’ the most, it’s hypnotizing. This project is already referred to as Kinderdijk 2.0. Lines of light are connecting windmills and by doing so Roosegaarde visualizes (the beauty of) green energy. Daan enthusiastically explained his projects while we visited his studio.
His latest project is the largest air-purifier in the world. Can you imagine?! A 7-meter high Smog Free Tower using ion technology to suck in smog particles and in return produces smog-free bubbles of public space. A tower that provides a radius of clean air for people to breathe, a place free of smog!
These towers can travel the world and the first one will soon be transported to Beijing (and was therefore packed in crates when we visited). Sorry to say Beijing, but you need way more than only one tower…..
But there is more to this tower. By putting the collected waste (smog) under high-pressure, he creates Smog Free rings! No more waste, only clean air and ‘schoonheid’ (beauty, purity).
New upcoming project of Daan Roosegaarde is his assignment to re-strengthen the beauty of the famous Dutch Afsluitdijk. This 30-kilometer long causeway was constructed between 1927 and 1932 and is in need of renovation. Dikes are as holy as cows in India, so Dutchman Daan picked up the challenge. He is going to create layers of light, an idea inspired by Dutch astronaut Wubbo Ockels. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to disclose more of this project, but he kindly invited us for phase I opening early September 2016.
Visiting the Roosegaarde Studio is not only a story about transformation, but also about connectivity. Situated in a raw urban area in the Western part of Rotterdam (Vierhaven), it tries to build a community by connecting to other artistic initiatives in this area: Ferro Dome and Atelier van Lieshout. They all try to bring the area to life through art and design.
The Ferro Dome has a rich industrial heritage. The pale blue round building, which is an impressive 3,500m3 in size, served as a gas holder until 1967. Rotterdam earmarked the site for redevelopment and aims to use its characteristic features in a creative manner. This summer Conny Janssen and her team will perform Courage, an all-round experience of dance and live music. At a truly unique location. We were delighted to get in and experience one of their practice sessions. The industrial atmosphere is phenomenal.
Atelier van Lieshout
Joep van Lieshout. A modest man when you meet him personally, but an extreme artist when you visit his atelier (right across the street from the Ferro Dome). Joep van Lieshout is searching for boundaries….and wants to cross them. He is challenging art, always raising questions about our society. Joep is an artist with international reputation (he is building his art village in Bochum, Germany, during the coming Ruhrtriennale)
Don’t expect easy accessible art when you visit Atelier van Lieshout. His work for sure raises questions. It can be extreme, brutal, and funny at the same time. But it’s his way to surface Rotterdam from the sea of superficial art and design.
I have so much to share about this city, I could write a book! This was only the first part of my story about design & architecture in Rotterdam! I hope you are inspired from the unusual and unique things that we have seen in Rotterdam. It will provide you with a totally different travel itinerary next time, don’t you think?
Stay tuned for part 2 of this post where I will show you some famous architectural highlights of Rotterdam: the Markthal, the Cube Houses, the UNESCO van Nelle factory (see picture below) and the Sonneveld house.
1. Posse + Fenix food factory
Posse is not only a restaurant. It’s a shop, gallery, artlab and espresso bar at the same time. Someone reviewed Posse as ‘delightfully strange and off the beaten track”. I couldn’t have said it better. Check their website as it’s not open for public every day.
Next door is Fenix Food Factory. Not only a kind of street food area, but a place to buy (and taste) fresh, local and artisan products and dishes. Industrial atmosphere with great views from the terrace!
2. Aloha (former Tropicana)
This building used to be the country’s first tropical swimming pool (Tropicana). It went bankrupt, was abandoned and deteriorated completely. But 2013 marked its resurrection when entrepreneurs started transforming the building into a bar and restaurant: Aloha. More will be added soon, but it’s a great place with a unique view on the river Maas.
3. Hotel New York
Exclusive place that I have described earlier on this blog. Always a pleasure to visit, for a cup of coffee, lunch or dinner.
June 2016 is Rotterdam Architecture Month (check #RAM16 on Twitter). There is a lot going on in the city during this month. According to Bas van der Pol (Programme Leader RAM16) the initial project of choreographing a Day of Architecture has grown from the idea of organizing a Week of Architecture into the current Month of Architecture! And yes, the city is worth a month full of workshops, lectures, tours, events and exhibitions for so-called archilovers.
June 18th still hosts the core Day of Architecture were more than 30 extraordinary buildings open their doors to the public. There are many spectacular buildings, both new-build and renovated ones, and you can easily stay for at least a week. Mark your calendar for 2017!