Rotterdam, Work in Progress

24/01/2018 09:36

The conquest of Holland by Nazi Germany was brief due to its forcefulness. Rotterdam was practically erased from the map, forcing the surrender of the country. After the war, reconstruction began. The one of the city was different and nowadays it has become a catalogue of avant-garde outdoor architecture.

Twenty minutes past one o'clock on Tuesday 14 May 1940 about one hundred air bombers appeared over Netherlands skies. Among them, belonging to the Kampfgeschwader air wing, flew 54 Heinkel He-111, an average bomber that had already been tested with the Condor Legion during the Spanish Civil War. A total of 1,150 bombs of 57 kg and 158 of 250 each, totalling 97 tons of explosives devastated an area of ​​2.6 square kilometres destroying 24.978 homes, 24 churches, 2,320 stores, 775 warehouses and 62 schools killing one thousand people and leaving 70,000 homeless. Next morning Dutch government capitulated to German totalitarian aggression.

Virtually the entire urban centre was demolished to rebuild the city. Unlike other towns that, after the war, chose to faithfully reproduce the destroyed buildings, Rotterdam decided to take the opportunity to redesign the urban fabric. Traces of medieval streets were forgotten and the city was reinvented by a project drawn up in 1946 by Cornelius van Traa architects team, which they called Basisplan voor de Herbouw van de Binnestadt - basic plan to rebuild downtown- which advised to develop open spaces and integrate the fluvial zone, in fact it bet by an American urban model instead European. The immense development of the harbour and the traffic of goods generated made the port, already in 1962, the world’s most active, a position that has now been snatched by several Asian harbours.

Despite the barbarism, Rotterdam still preserved some buildings, very few, before the German bombardment, the oldest one among them is the cathedral, Laurenskerk, now the unique medieval building in city. The Witte Huis - White House - 1898, inspired by Manhattan office towers, was once the first European skyscraper with eleven stories and 148 feet in height, still impressive with its compact castle appearance. In the 1930s, Rotterdam was also receptive to new trends in avant-garde architecture, which took the form of Johannes Brinkman and Leendert van der Vlugt’s Van Nelle factory and the functionalist Sonneveldhuis. Town hall neorenacentist building was built between 1914 and 1920 on the design of Henry Evers, on the main lobby raises a tower 232 feet high.

Today, Van Traa’s Basisplan has already been largely superseded by new projects making Rotterdam a contemporary architecture laboratory and a catalogue of outstanding architects. The Euromast Tower, a colossal 279 feet communications tower was built in 1960 by Hugh Maaskant, and after it, in the 1990s, began to grow projects that competed for innovative shapes.

The Erasmus Bridge, by Ben van Berkel and Caroline Bros, stretched its 2600 feet in length over the Nieuwe Maas River in 1996 supported by an asymmetric pylon of 453 feet which have been dubbed as De Zwaan, the Swan, because its shape reminds the neck of the bird.

The railway station area concentrates some of the new skyscrapers and the Rotterdam Centraal itself. Rebuilt in 1957, was completely remodelled in 2014 by a team of architects providing for the year 2025 a transit of 320,000 passengers per day. The clock and letters of the facade were recovered as these were designed by the architect Sybold Van Ravensteyn for the old station. Near this, next to other buildings that try to climb towards the skies stands the Gebow Delftse Poort, twin towers reaching 496 feet high next to the 489 feet of the Millennium Tower, which treats to imitate, in a more stylized way, newyorker Empire State. All of them are already surpassed in height by the Maastoren, next to the river, with its 541 feet high.

Not far from the river, near and in the same Westnieuwland square there are some of the most remarkable architectural landmarks: Kijk Kubus, the cube houses and the new market, Markthal. The original cubic houses were born in 1977 from a project by Piet Blom. Finally, 39 units were built and its peculiarity is that they are buckets inclined to 45 degrees supported on pillars as if each one of them was a tree, in such a way that the global alignment forms a peculiar forest. Each house has an area of ​​one hundred square meters divided into three floors, the first one has the living room and kitchen, in the second there are two bedrooms and bathroom and there is still another space on the third floor. One of the houses has been enabled to be visited as a museum, in another you can spend the night as it has become a small hostel.

Markthal is the most recent Rotterdam market since October 2014 and the work of architecture firm MVRDV. The colossal building has the shape of a horseshoe that, in its hollow, covered by glazed facades, contains the market stalls, a large variety of restaurants and shops and the walls and ceiling houses 228 homes and offices.

The record of height in the city, held by the Maas Tower will be surpassed in 2020 by the impressive skyscraper Zalmhaven Tower, 705 meters from the ground and probably will not be the last.

© J.L.Nicolas


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