“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!
Table of Contents
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. 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.
Why visit Rotterdam?
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! 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 [temporary art project]
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!
Rotterdam Rooftop Days (Dakendagen 010)
There is something with Rotterdam and its rooftops. No other city in the Netherlands has so many flat roofs.
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…..
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.
3. Rotterdam places to visit
In Rotterdam the building and renovating never ends. Flattened almost completely by terrible bombing in World War II, its process of resurrection continuous to date. The quick rebuilding after the war was one without a clear style. That has changed. Construction-wise also I have seen the city of Rotterdam heading into a planned and well-thought direction in the past years. Architects seem to be in the lead. Cities need a collective architectural effort and that’s why I think Rotterdam is such a great example when discussing (the role of) architecture.
To witness further transformation through architecture I hope to travel to Rotterdam regularly. And you should too! Let me introduce you to some places you must visit.
Market Hall (Markthal)
What to say about the Market Hall that has not yet been mentioned on websites and blogs all around the world? The building has received huge amounts of (international) attention since it opened on 1 October 2014. Standing firmly in the center of the city, the building has a remarkable horseshoe shape. Before the Market Hall arrived that particular area was large and empty, hosting an open-air fresh produce market once or twice a week. It was ugly, unattractive in its flat and desolated way.
That’s when Jan Knikker from MVRDV architects said: “Rotterdam needs a living room. A covered area to live, shop and meet each other.”
Attention for the Market Hall is not only focused on its exterior design. Inside it’s even more impressive. The interior is one huge mural featuring gigantic and colorful fruits, vegetables and other market goods. You almost feel like Alice in Wonderland…. On the ground floor you will find dozens of high-quality fresh produce stalls. Visit just for shopping or stay for lunch or even dinner.
But there is more. With 228 apartments, restaurants, shops and parking spaces, the building is a special place because it combines all these different functions. Combining these functions has started a new urban typology which is not found anywhere else in the world.
The Market Hall does bring back a certain level of vitality in Rotterdam’s city center, but walking around I missed the real enthusiasm from visitors and shop owners. Despite criticism about being too fashionable and luxurious, it still however draws thousands of visitors per day.
Cube houses (Kubuswoningen)
The famous Cube Houses (Kubuswoningen in Dutch) right across the square from the Market Hall should be your next destination. Designed by Piet Blom, this forest of yellow cube houses on pillars was built in the early 1970s already! Blom created an urban roof with public space available below and between the houses. His idea was to design a village within the city, a safe environment with again different functions (shops, playground, school, etc.).
One of the houses has actually been transformed into a museum. Walk around in this Show Cube and experience a house without straight walls! Stayokay has a hostel inside one of the cubes if you want to spend the night.
Wander around slowly in this forest on pillars. Don’t forget to look up! The remarkable shape of the cubes offer interesting perspectives.
With dozens of different museums, Rotterdam caters to art lovers. One of them is Kunsthal. Designed by Rem Koolhaas, this modern building offers 3300sqm of exhibition space. Enjoy lots of modern and contemporary art. Check their website for running and upcoming exhibitions.
During our visit we were quite intrigued by an exhibition called Bloodywood: filmposters from Ghana 1997-2007…. I wonder sometimes who comes up with these themes?
Van Nelle Factory
Visiting the Van Nelle factory again was high on my wish list! Years ago I walked the premises while attending an event and the industrial design and architecture blew me away instantly.
This time we went on a tour by Urban Guides (quite a good way to see hidden – and famous – gems in Rotterdam). Jeroen Wijnhorst from Urban Guides introduced us to the factory: this used to be the place where tea, coffee and tobacco was produced and packed under the Van Nelle brand. Declared UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014, it’s currently the most prominent industrial monument in the Netherlands.
Architects Brinkman & van der Vlugt built the factory between 1927 and 1930 and were inspired by the Ford factories in the US. Open spaces and a maximum of light (so people were more productive). Lots of steel and glass: a transparent spectacle! The building is actually quite narrow so the light could enter far into the building and dark areas were prevented.
The design can be called intelligent. Concrete mushroom-shaped pillars were used to support the structure, a first-timer in the Netherlands. The higher you get, the smaller the columns become. Quite logical if you think about it: higher up the columns need to carry way less weight. Building like that they saved on costs considerably.
There is far more great stuff as we discovered during the tour. For example, the building has two mirroring staircases. One for the group of workers leaving the building and the other one for workers entering. This way they would not interfere with each other making the whole process of switching workers more efficient.
The complex was renovated and redesigned in 2000 and now has multiple functions for events, start-up companies, fashion shows, etc.
Last but not least: the Sonneveld House. Before I continue I have to make a confession. I used to live in Rotterdam and visit the city regularly, but never before heard of the Sonneveld House. Now I am so happy that this house (actually a museum) was on our press trip itinerary!
Built in the early 1930s it’s one of the best preserved houses in the Dutch Functionalist style. The house was designed by the same architect responsible for the Van Nelle Factory: Brinkman & Van der Vlugt. Funny fact: the house was actually designed for one of the three directors of the Van Nelle factory: Mr. Sonneveld.
What is the Sonneveld House all about? Well, when you enter you literally step back in time. This is how a home back in 1933 looked like, although a hypermodern one for an ultra-rich family! Definitely not your regular house.
The house is a total concept: everything matches but every room still has its own atmosphere. All items of furniture and lamps were made by Dutch designer Gispen (some even especially for the Sonneveld family).
I loved the house. I was overwhelmed by the minimalistic, functional style. How was life in a modern house back in the 1930s? Well, Sonneveld House shows you exactly that! This style, together with the Gispen furniture, will never lose its charm. It might easily become in fashion again…
Entrance to the house is € 10,- (children up to 18 free of charge). The Sonneveld House offers free audio tours where also a special children’s tour available. And because of the fragility you have to wear slippers over your shoes..
Places to stay: Nhow hotel
In Rotterdam we stayed at the Nhow hotel. The terrace (where you can enjoy a wonderful breakfast) has great views on the city and the Erasmus bridge in particular. All rooms have a minimalistic design. Click here to check out prices and availability at Nhow.
Nhow is situated in the largest skyscraper of Rotterdam, a building designed by Rem Koolhaas carrying the appropriate name The Rotterdam. The city we love to visit, again and again. We’ll be back soon!