Rotterdam in de krant

Helaas beschrijft hij zijn bezoek aan de Entrepothaven niet. Verder is het een nogal droog artikel, zonder ferme aanprijzingen, waardoor de meeste Canadezen (op de enkele architectuur-freak na) dit niet als een echte aansporing zullen zien om hun koffers te pakken en onze (werk) stad te bezoeken…


An architect’s playground

A magnet for building buffs, the city with everything from a leaning tower to swanky homes is best seen by bike

"If a building doesn’t work, we tear it down and build a new one," said Ossip van Duivenbode, a Rotterdam resident, architecture student and guide.

"The bombing was good for the architects," van Duivenbode said. "They said, ‘Finally, we can realize our dreams.’ " The result is a Dutch city totally different from the Golden Age houses that teeter like drunken sailors over Amsterdam’s canals or the stately palaces and parliament of The Hague. While most of the country’s cities are resolutely low-rise, Rotterdam reaches for the sky. The Kop van Zuid, on the banks of the Maas that carves the city in two, is known as Manhattan on the Maas. Its towering office and apartment blocks flanking historic brownstone warehouses have been turned into swanky homes.

The mix of buildings that survived the bombing, and modern residential and office blocks such as Renzo Piano’s "leaning" KPN tower, combine to make Rotterdam a magnet for building buffs.

And the best way to see it is by bike.

Picking up rented green bikes near central station, a group of reporters recently set off, led by van Duivenbode, to see the city’s architectural highlights. One of the first stops was De Unie, a café with a Mondrianesque façade designed in 1924 by Dutch architect J.J.P. Oud. The original building, a classic example of the Dutch movement De Stijl, was destroyed in the bombing, and a reconstruction was built in 1986. As part of its "City of Architecture" year that has just kicked off, Rotterdam has launched a website – – packed with information such as the "Sites and Stories" interactive map that is linked to MP3 files with descriptions and anecdotes about 40 of the city’s most interesting buildings.

The sound file for De Unie includes Oud’s wife recounting how she was once asked if her husband, a municipal architect, could get rid of the café, which was considered a monstrosity by some residents. "I said, ‘I don’t think so – he designed it,’ " the architect’s wife says. The strangest buildings in the city must be the Cube homes designed by Amsterdam architect Piet Blom in 1978.

Intended to look like a futuristic forest linking the old harbour with downtown, the neighbourhood’s homes are all yellow, white and grey cubes perched at an angle on top of a central column and stairwell. Inside, most of the walls slant away from the floors, creating a giddy feeling even when you’re standing still. "Living here is a challenge," said Ed de Graaf, sitting in one of the homes that is open to curious visitors. But he concedes they are not to everybody’s taste: "Like with all extreme things, you either love them or you hate them."

Cycling over the Willemsbrug across the Maas and turning right, you reach Wilhelminapier on the Kop van Zuid. The street could be renamed Pritzker-pier, in honour of the prestigious architecture prize. First there is the KPN tower by Piano (Pritzker Prize winner in 1998) and at the other end of the street is the World Port Center by Britain’s 1999 Pritzker winner Sir Norman Foster. Between the two, construction is planned for The Rotterdam, a multifunctional tower block featuring apartments, a cinema, restaurants and a hotel. It has been designed by Rotterdam-based 2000 Pritzker winner Rem Koolhaas.

Piano’s tower features a façade that leans forward at a six-degree angle and is propped up by a giant stake. The façade is covered with green lights that can be programmed to create patterns and messages so that it can – says the telephone and Internet company that owns it – communicate with the city.

Farther down the road is Foster’s imposing World Port Center, with its curved face seeming to point like a ship’s prow down the Maas toward Rotterdam’s container harbour. On the south side of the Wilhelminapier is the Montevideo apartment block designed by Francine Houben of Delft-based Mecanoo Architects – at just over 150 metres, the Netherlands’ tallest residential tower.

Dwarfed between these two towers is the Hotel New York, once the headquarters of the Holland-America Line and departure point for thousands of Europeans from Rotterdam to a new life in the United States. It was built from 1901 to 1917 featuring many Jugendstil, or art nouveau, characteristics such as the flowing lines of its wrought iron staircase. It fell into disuse as air travel displaced transatlantic passenger ships, but was painstakingly restored before reopening as a hotel and restaurant in 1993.

Crossing the Erasmus Bridge and heading back into town past the gently bobbing yachts of the Veerhaven, you reach the Westerlijk Handelsterrein, a warehouse complex built in 1894 that survived the German bombers and was considered too good to tear down even by this city’s demolition enthusiasts. Instead, it, like the Hotel New York, has been renovated and updated and now houses restaurants, art galleries and nightclubs for the city’s in-crowd. From there, a quick pedal takes you to the Shipping and Transport College, which vies with the Cube homes for the title of oddest building in the city.

The 70-metre tower, topped by a cantilevered conference room, looks like a giant periscope jutting out of the ground and peering down the Maas. Materials used inside the building include sail canvas and wood, underscoring a nautical theme that recurs in many of the city’s buildings, from balcony railings to circular porthole-like windows. "For many Dutch architects, shipbuilding is an ideal," van Duivenbode said. "It’s seen as a perfect combination of form and function."

Pack your bags


Rotterdam ByCycle: 31 (10) 465-2228; Bicycle tours can be organized through company, booking is recommended.

Rotterdam ArchiGuides: 31 (10) 433-2231; Architectural tours with a guide can be booked through the company, which organizes tours by bus, bike or on foot.WHERE TO STAY

Hotel New York: 31 (10) 439-0500; If you want to sleep in a piece of Rotterdam’s architectural heritage, try the Hotel New York, where rooms start at $150 per night.

Bilderberg Parkhotel: 31 (10) 436-3611; Rooms at this hotel start at $113 per night.MORE INFORMATION

For a full program of cultural events during Rotterdam’s year of architecture, visit