Stunning Structures: The Best of Rotterdam’s Architecture
It may be the Netherlands’ second city, but the giant port of Rotterdam is a world capital when it comes to architecture. Revolutionary living spaces, awe-inspiring commercial buildings and the occasional medieval masterpiece jostle for space in this ever-expanding metropolis. It is hardly surprising that the city hosts the International Architecture Biennale and the Netherlands Architecture Institute. Here are just ten of its finest constructions.
Built in 1982-1984 according to designs by award-winning Dutch architect Piet Blom, the Kubuswoningen, or ‘Cube-Houses’, offer an inimitable living experience. These 40 small yellow dwellings, shaped like tilted cubes, are each perched on concrete pillars, giving the impression of architectural ‘trees’ clustering together to make a forest. Blom envisaged the complex as a safe, peaceful community, set apart from the bustling city centre below with each cube comprised of three floors and a panoramic viewing gallery. Down among the ‘tree-trunks’, on street level, shops, a school and a children’s playground are available for residents’ use. Anyone dreaming of living in one of these fascinating houses can see what it is like by visiting the Kijk-Kubus or ‘Show-Cube’.
The pair of riverside skyscrapers known as Maastoren are currently the tallest buildings in the Netherlands. Constructed between 2006 and 2010 and designed by the Odile Decq Benoit Cornette and Dam en Partners Architecten firms, they are made principally of aluminium that grows lighter in shade as it approaches the sky with each tower topped by a glass viewing gallery. The tallest of the pair measures 181 metres and has 44 floors while the other rises to almost 100 metres in height. Both house the offices of several prestigious corporations so unfortunately it is not possible for regular visitors to go inside, but the outside view can be admired from many spots along the River Maas.
The Nieuwe Luxor Theatre has been named the Netherlands’ prettiest theatre by several publications. Its riverside facade, painted scarlet to remind passers-by of the luscious red of traditional stage curtains, belies a spacious interior with lots of wide staircases, glass columns and spectacular viewpoints. Visitors can enjoy an unrivalled panorama of the River Maas from both the foyer and the rooftop terrace, and the huge ramp for delivery vehicles is intriguingly disguised, winding around the outside of the theatre. Built in 1996 to 2001 from designs by Bolles + Wilson, the theatre is a national leader artistically as well as architecturally, offering world-class productions for all ages.
One of the few remaining pre-modern buildings in Rotterdam and the city’s only example of Gothic architecture, the Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk is a stunning centre for all of the town’s Christian celebrations and many secular events too. Services, concerts, lectures and meetings are regularly held in its lofty interior, which was originally constructed in the mid-1400s and restored in the 1950s after heavy wartime bombing. Although the whole building is breath-taking, particular points of interest include: the unique copper choir screen built between 1712 and 1715; its four organs, one of which is the largest in the country and the ornate doors designed by famous Italian artist Manzù in 1968. The church is open to visitors from Tuesday to Saturday.
The Witte Huis was constructed from 1897 to 1898 in an attempt to live up to the USA’s architectural innovations. At 45 metres high, it was considered the Netherlands’ first ‘skyscraper’ and for many years was the tallest office building in Europe. Designers Gerrit van der Schuijt, Herman van der Schuijt and Willem Molenbroek were inspired by the Art Nouveau style encountered on a visit to New York, yet chose to retain an element of tradition by using stone, rather than steel, as their principal material. This imposing building remains a hub of Rotterdam life today, with the popular Grand Café Het Witte Huis occupying the ground floor and several important offices above.
The Van Nellefabriek (Van Nelle Factory) is a former tea, coffee and tobacco factory whose significance as an example of early 20th century industrial architecture was honoured in June 2014, when it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built between 1925 and 1931 and designed by J.A. Brinkman and L.C. van der Vlugt, its huge windows, light metal framework and streamlined shape give it a spacious, airy feel. This aesthetic represents the pinnacle of the Nieuwe Bouwen, or Dutch Functionalism, architectural movement that became popular across the country after the First World War. Although the factory closed down in the 1990s, the building is still in use as an office space and events venue.
Hotel New York is a reminder of Rotterdam’s history placed right in the midst of some of the city’s most forward-looking constructions. Built in 1901-1917 from designs by J. Müller, C.M. Droogleever Fortuyn and C.B. van der Tak, it was originally the head office of the Holland America Line shipping company – the place where thousands of hopeful Europeans went to arrange their emigration to the USA and for many of them, this red-brick Jugendstil structure was the last European building they ever saw. Although that era is long gone, the building has not lost its prominence, having been home to a luxury hotel and restaurant since 1993. It has a roof terrace known for offering particularly excellent views.
Originally conceived in 1925 as a temporary construction to fill the void that wartime bombing left between two houses, a restored De Unie still stands today as a fascinating illustration of one of the country’s most important modern art movements. Its architect J.J.P. Oud adhered to the de Stijl artistic vision, which promoted neat horizontal and vertical lines and blocks of primary colours. Sadly, the building in its original location was destroyed during the Second World War, but in 1986 architect Carel Weeber painstakingly reconstructed it all in the arty Westersingel area, where it now functions as a popular café and cultural venue.
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As a sizeable city, Rotterdam has many bridges but the Erasmusbrug, or Erasmus Bridge, is undoubtedly the best known. Frequently used as a symbol of Rotterdam in photos and advertisements, it stretches 808 metres from north to south across the Maas River and culminates in a spectacular 139-metre-high white pylon that saw it nicknamed ‘The Swan’. Built in 1994-1996 and designed by Ben van Berkel, it is the tallest bridge in the Netherlands. Its wide surface provides the perfect focal point for events such as marathons and dance shows, when it is not being used by transport. In 1998 it was even chosen as a set for Jackie Chan’s film, Who Am I?
Originally constructed in 1960 to celebrate the Floriade international horticultural exhibition, architect H.A. Maaskant’s Euromast still functions as an unrivalled observation tower to admire the city’s skyline. The country’s tallest man-made structure at 185 metres high, it features a large viewing gallery and restaurant whose curved shape and all-round windows have encouraged locals to liken it to a ship’s bridge. A rotating lift can transport visitors from here to a smaller platform at the very top, the ideal place to take memorable photos, and more adventurous visitors can come back down again using the abseiling and zip-wire experiences available. Interestingly, the Euromast was given its name because the word ‘mast’, or close variants of it, is used in 12 languages.
A feat of fun and functionality, Rotterdam’s stunning Market Hall holds offices and over 200 apartments, while playing host to a large, covered market hall and public space. Its grey stone exterior arches, in the shape of a horseshoe, over the interior open space where the food market takes places during the day. Coating the entirety of the inside of the archway is an enormous mural by artists Arno Coenen and Iris Roskam, portraying a colorful array of fruit, vegetables, insects and flowers. The building demonstrates how beautifully art and architecture can come together.