Rotterdam is quickly becoming the world-class destination for architectural innovation. The last two years have witnessed the arrival of several major new structures along Rotterdam’s distinctive skyline. There’s OMA’s huge and futuristic De Rotterdam hotel and office block; MVRDV’s new, horseshoe inspired market hall; and the new and innovative railway station, by Benthem Crouwel and MVSA, with its amazing roof.
In spite of, or maybe because of, the city being one of the worst-bombed during the second world war, ‘It is becoming a centre for architecture,’ says Reinier de Graaf, a partner at OMA, ‘The city has had a remarkable turnaround in the last 20 years, and architecture is playing a big part in it.’ During the second world war bombings of 1940 and 1943 most of the city centre was reduced to rubble, with more than 26,000 homes and over 6,000 other buildings being destroyed. For today’s architects, that leaves little to be preserved, unlike many other major European cities.
‘Here you can experiment, because there’s not that much you can ruin,’ de Graaf continued ‘When you work in a historical city like Venice, Amsterdam or St Petersburg, people there are precious about their city and rightfully so, there are centuries of history.’ And this lack of attachment, de Graaf also says, that makes the city an ideal testing ground for new ideas, such as early far-reaching designs like Piet Blom’s 1977 Cube Houses.
Reinier de Graaf recently finished the city’s new Timmerhuis – a pixelated steel and glass building housing apartments, shops and restaurants, a museum, and council offices.
Always considered culturally second behind Amsterdam, there is now a buzz about Rotterdam according to MVRDV co-founder Jacob van Rijs, who goes on to say, ‘The new architecture has been coming a long time, but now that things are realised for the outside world to see… there’s another city and that it’s actually pretty interesting. We’re really proud of that here, people sense this optimism.’
Van Rijs’ firm is currently working on another future landmark for the city. The bowl-shaped art depot for the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen will feature a mirrored exterior and a rooftop sculpture garden.
‘There is a tradition of innovative architecture in Rotterdam and this is something the city marketing has also picked up on,’ says Duzan Doepel, another locally based architect. He has teamed up with Eline Strijkers, a fellow designer, and together they unveiled a concept last year for Rotterdam’s waterfront. A massive circular wind turbine, also home to an apartment block and hotel, is proposed when current technologies can catch up with the idea, but it already has the backing of the local government.
Designer Daan Roosegaarde has also busied himself on several innovative projects, including a smog-purifying tower. The first prototype of his Smog Free Tower has been installed outside Roosegaarde’s Rotterdam office and he believes that ideas and designs like this will be important when it comes to confirming the city’s reputation as a centre for new technology.
Rotterdam’s popular new status as a city of the future has been cemented by its entry in Lonely Planet’s list of Top 10 cities to visit in 2016. The renowned guidebook described it as ‘a veritable open-air gallery of Modern, Postmodern and contemporary construction’.