So, you think Dutch architecture is all about quaint, leaning houses with shuttered windows and pastel facades? You’ve clearly never been to Rotterdam. Holland’s second city is Europe’s most architecturally innovative: while Amsterdam comes with a heavy dose of history, a stroll around Rotterdam feels like you could have stumbled onto the set of Blade Runner.
Following heavy bombing in 1940, the tough decision was taken to tear down what remained of the city centre, bar a handful of historic buildings. The impact of war presented Rotterdam with a blank canvas, an opportunity to bring about changes which otherwise would have been unthinkably radical. Rather than trying to restore the city to its former glory, officials decided to transform Rotterdam into a beacon for progressive architecture. Fast forward to today, and you’ll find a metropolis that has benefitted from seven decades of forward thinking and the creativity of some of the world’s most innovative architects. In Rotterdam, the eye is drawn to buildings at every turn. With so much architecture to enjoy, here are eight structures that you simply cannot miss. IPhones at the ready.
1.Rotterdam Centraal Station
In a rush to see some of Rotterdam’s coolest architecture? Why not arrive by train and let the sights come to you. Officially reopened in 2014, Rotterdam Centraal Station is a metal-and-glass wonder – and a striking example of the city’s commitment to architectural innovation. Its gleaming, angular roof has earned it the nickname ‘Station Kapsalon’ after the popular local dish: chips, shawarma meat and cheese, baked in a shiny silver pan. Ceilings internally clad with wood provide a natural feel, while walls of glass ensure the concourse is flooded with light. Such a modern station wouldn’t be complete without some cutting edge technology. The roof’s solar cells make Rotterdam Centraal one of Europe’s largest rooftop solar projects, while the panels’ varying patterns create stunning shadows across the station. Yet, despite all this innovation, tradition hasn’t been abandoned completely: both the lettering across the station’s facade and the terminus clock were originally part of Rotterdam’s first central station.
(photo by OlenaHolland/ Shutterstock)
3013 AJ Rotterdam
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Luchtsingel – or ‘air canal’ for you non Dutch speakers – is the “world’s first crowdfunded public infrastructure project”. Pretty cool, huh? Local architects ZUS built the 390-metre-long pedestrian bridge to connect the centre and north of Rotterdam: the storey-high, bright yellow wooden walkway runs from Centraal station to the Laurenskwartier district. Completed in 2015, its wooden slats bear the names of those who donated €25 or more. The Luchtsingel is also connected to several other new public spaces, including Dakakker, Europe’s largest rooftop-farm. It has driven investment in previously neglected areas of Rotterdam, and according to its designers, is contributing to the establishment of “a new three-dimensional cityscape.” Looks good to us.
(photo: Iris van den Broek / Shutterstock.com)
3.Kubuswoningen (Cube Houses)
Sticking with yellow (I think it might have something to do with all the sunflowers), these tilted cube-shaped houses are a true feat of imagination, perched on concrete pillars at a 45-degree angle. The cluster of buildings, intended to represent an urban forest, were built between 1982 and 1984, based on designs by Dutch architect Piet Blom. Set in Oude Haven, the oldest port of Rotterdam, they helped bring character to an area that was devastated by bombing during World War II. Amidst the concrete pillars or ‘trunks’ are shops, a school and even a chess piece museum, while each house has three floors and a viewing gallery. Want to see what they’re like inside? Head to the ‘show cube’ and have a look around. They aren’t the most space-efficient, and the slanted walls means that much of the furniture has to be custom-made, but it’s a small price to pay for houses that look as cool as this. The best part? They're right around the corner from citizenM Rotterdam. Pop in for a coffee or a spot of free wifi.
3011 MH Rotterdam
If you thought the kubuswoningen were trippy, just wait until you see Rotterdam’s Markthal. In this staggering arch shaped building, offices and 200 apartments in horseshoe layout overlook a large, covered market hall. It’s a paradise for foodies, with 96 stalls selling fresh produce, plus plenty of restaurants and bars should you feel like taking a load off. You can visit the ‘Tijdtrap’, a permanent exhibition of the archeological gems found during construction, but it’s Arno Coenen and Iris Roskam’s 11,000m2 ceiling mural that really steals the show. ‘Horn of Plenty’ has often been called Holland’s answer to the Sistine Chapel; it is one of the world’s largest artworks, an incredibly vivid depiction of fruit, vegetables and animals – which almost appear to be falling from the sky. It’s truly breathtaking; standing underneath it is sure to make you feel small as a speck of sand.
Who said culture had to be wholesome? The McDonalds on Coolsingel was once voted the ugliest building in Rotterdam. Housed in a former 60s tobacconist, the original structure was an architectural monstrosity that seemed to have been awkwardly dumped by the adjacent historic post office. So you can imagine locals’ surprise when Rotterdam architects Mei replaced it with a stunning glass pavilion. The cubic masterpiece won an Iconic Awards prize in 2015 for architecture and design and has been oft compared to an Apple Store. Boasting a white steel spiral staircase, golden panelling decorated with a pixelated crowd image and panoramic views from both floors, it’s a long way from your average golden arches. They’ve even moved the pavilion further out onto the street to open up the facade of the classic building behind. Feeling better about that Big Mac now? We certainly are.
contactCoolsingel 44, 3011 AD
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When local firm OMA conceived Timmerhuis, they set out to construct a building that seamlessly blended into the existing fabric of the city. And that’s exactly what they’ve achieved: by transplanting steel and glass structures onto a 1950s municipal office block, they’ve literally merged the old and the new. Even the original building’s external wall remains, now a proud part of the new structure’s interior. And by constructing Timmerhuis out of small, repeating cubic structures, the firm have managed to create a building whose subtlety belies its floor space. Set over 15 stories and 48,400m2, it is home to a city museum, municipal offices, shops, restaurants and apartments. The modular structure even means that every home can have its own roof terrace – now that’s urban living we could get used to.
7.Van Nellefabriek (Van Nelle Factory)
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014, this former tea, coffee and tobacco factory is cited as a classic example of early 20th century industrial architecture. Designed by Brinkmann and van der Vlugt between 1927 and 1930, it had contemporary architects cooing. Corbusier even called it “the most beautiful spectacle of the modern age”. We wouldn’t quite go that far, but the building’s clean lines and abundance of windows make it one hell of an upgrade on the monstrous factories that came before it. Considered the pinnacle of Nieuwe Bouwen, it gave workers a rare access to light and space, and remained a tobacco factory until the 1990s. Now office and event space, tours still run twice a year: on National Architecture Day in June and on Open Monument Day in September.
8.Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk
All that innovation making your head spin? Don’t worry, we’ve got just the thing. Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk is Rotterdam’s only remaining example of Gothic architecture and one of the only pre-1940 buildings still standing in the city centre. It’s a rare piece of nostalgia in a truly progressive town. Built in the mid 15th century, and extensively restored in the 50s following heavy bombing, the city’s central church became a post-war symbol of Rotterdam’s resilience. Located at the heart of the city’s original settlement, it hosts concerts and lectures, as well as the town’s major Christian celebrations. It is also home to ‘A monument filled with stories’, a unique permanent exhibition that delves into the church’s history by exploring the narrative form. Plus, you can feast your eyes on tangible historical gems including Holland’s biggest organ and an early 18th century copper choir screen. Still want more? You can even climb the church’s tower for some of the best views of Rotterdam.