Rotterdam it!


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Apr 4, 2007
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The Herald ran a story from the Associated Press, on May 31, 2007 about the Netherlands' second largest city's architecture.

Dutch treat: In 2007, Rotterdam is the ?City of Architecture?
By Associated Press

Thursday, May 31, 2007 - Updated: 05:28 AM EST

ROTTERDAM, Netherlands - Walking out of Rotterdam?s central rail station, you have to weave your way through a giant building site just to catch a tram or reach a cafe.

Is this any way to arrive in a city celebrating a year of architecture that aims to showcase its urban landscape?

Well, actually it is.

Wrecking balls and scaffolding are as much a part of this city as the kinked pylon of the Erasmus Bridge, which towers over the River Maas, and the water taxis and freight barges that ply its murky waters.

?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.

World War II also played a role. On May 14, 1940, a Nazi bombardment flattened buildings and sparked an inferno that destroyed most of the city center, creating an architects? playground during postwar reconstruction.

?The bombing was good for the architects,? said Van Duivenbode. ?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 river 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 this being the Netherlands, 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 cafe with a Mondrianesque facade 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 Web site - - 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 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 harbor with downtown, the neighborhood?s homes are all yellow, white and gray 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.

Cycling over the Willemsbrug across the Maas and turning right you reach Wilhelminapier on the Kop van Zuid.

First there is the KPN tower by Piano (Pritzker Prize winner in 1998) and at the other end of the street the World Port Center by Britain?s 1999 Pritzker winner Sir Norman Foster.

Piano?s tower features a facade that leans forward at a 6-degree angle and is propped up by a giant stake. The facade is covered with green lights that can be programmed to create patterns and messages so that it can - said 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 harbor. On the south side of the Wilhelminapier is the Montevideo apartment block designed by Francine Houben of Delft-based Mecanoo Architects - at just over 500 feet 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 between 1901 and 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 trans-Atlantic 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 230-foot tower, topped by a cantilevered conference room, looks like a giant periscope jutting out of the ground and peering down the Maas.

If You Go...

ROTTERDAM CITY OF ARCHITECTURE: For a full program of cultural events during Rotterdam?s year of architecture, go to

GETTING THERE: Rotterdam can be easily reached by train from any city in the Netherlands and from Amsterdam?s Schiphol Airport. You can drive to Rotterdam in under an hour from Amsterdam if you avoid the morning and evening commutes.

GETTING A GUIDE: Bicycle tours can be organized through Rotterdam ByCycle, which is based next to Central Station; or phone 011-31-10-465-2228. The company also rents bikes to groups of six or more people. Booking is recommended.

Architectural tours with a guide can be booked through Rotterdam ArchiGuides; or phone 011-31-10-433-2231. The company organizes tours by bus, bike or on foot. Call ahead for reservations and to check timings. Until October, there will be a bike tour every Sunday.

Beton Brut

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May 25, 2006
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AdamBC said:
^ Cool stuff -- don't suppose you made it inside one of the units. They've got all the energy of Libeskind or Zaha, but with the clear air of rationalism.

Ablarc (or others) is this a European take on the Metabolist Movement? (Nagoya's Kisho Kurokawa is the most well known practitioner). This month's Architectural Record (just arrived yesterday) mentions that one of Kurokawa's most famous work, Nakagin Capsule Tower in the Ginza District of Tokyo, will be torn down in 2008.

Not sure how the architect feels about this, as he's commented on the impermanence of the built environment.

Paul Rudolph worked in a similar idiom in a failed public housing scheme in Connecticut, and in his unbuilt Graphic Arts Center, a vertical community of "plug-in" residential units that would have stood where Battery Park City is today.

Moshe Safdie's Habitat '67 (that has a cameo in Will Farrell's Blades of Glory) is a built example of Metabolist architecture that's become one of the more desirable addresses in Montreal.


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Feb 28, 2007
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I was able to make it inside one:

However, that was as best I could really do considering how small and oddly shaped the spaces are. It's roomier than you think inside, but not by much.[/img]