Landmark renovation projects and collective regeneration in Rotterdam
While Rotterdam is known for radical architecture and forward-thinking city planning, architects are finding ways to celebrate the city’s history too. Several landmark renovation projects have launched this year, and there’s an ever-growing interest in collective regeneration of city’s 20th century residential fabric led by a new generation of ambitious emerging architects
Rotterdam has developed a knack for reinvention. After the city was flattened during World War II, reconstruction between 1945 and 1968 saw the rise of a new more functional urban design. The following decades experienced some radical relief with Piet Blom’s Cube House completed 1984. Then in the 1990s, Rotterdam became an open-minded testbed to rising Dutch architects OMA and MVRDV, with De Rotterdam completing in 2013, and the U-shaped Markthal in 2014.
While known for its forward-thinking approach, recently the city and its architects have been taking some interest in the past too. Historical buildings are a rarity in Rotterdam, and the time has come for preserving and preparing them for a long-term future.
The impressive Postkantoor (central post office) dating back to 1916, is one of the landmark renovation projects embracing the city’s architectural history. Developer OMNAM Group and NYC-based ODA have taken on the redesign of the mighty modern-meets-art-deco building, and ODA will be extending the site with two new contemporary buildings. The mixed use scheme, named POST, aims to give the historic building back to the people of Rotterdam, with social and retail spaces at ground level.
A new era for the Boijmans
Elsewhere in the centre, the world-renowned Boijmans Van Beuningen museum, which moved into its stately brick, stone and copper building in 1935, has just closed for a much-needed renovation. The city of Rotterdam decided to opt for the most ambitious plan for its renovation, expected to take seven years, to not only clear it of asbestos and protect it from flooding, but also to equip it for a long future ahead with a new museum shop, dining area and more space for large-scale exhibitions.
In its time, the Boijmans has experienced many layers of growth and expansion – a modern exhibitions wing was added in 1972, and a pavilion designed by Hubert-Jan Henket in 1991. This stage of its growth is no different and the renovation project is also about renewal. After a competition, a winning architect will be selected in January 2020 to take on the creative challenge. Shortlisted architects include KAAN Architecten in association with Van Hoogevest Architecten, Mecanoo, and David Chipperfield Architects with WDJ Architecten.
In Rotterdam however, total reinvention is never far away. Driven by a necessity to provide safe storage for artworks after a series of floods, the Boijmans Van Beuningen museum has added a radical and ambitious new string to its bow with the ‘Depot’ designed by Rotterdam-based MVRDV – a mirrored ‘pot’ (as the locals have coined it) for art storage that will be open to the public to explore. Set to open in 2021, the curved building in the midst of the Museum Park has been designed to attract public interaction with its reflective façade, akin to Chicago’s much-loved Cloudgate sculpture by Anish Kapoor, and to expand the surrounding green public space.
The Fenix warehouse rises again
Another curious architectural object will be appearing in the Fenix Warehouse, located in Kachendrecht – the industrial port area. At the Fenix 1 warehouse, which dates back to the 1920s, Wim Pijbes, director of the Droom en Daad Foundation (translation: dream and do) has enlisted MAD Architects for a Vessel-style observation staircase and deck, set to complete in 2025. Determined to create a spectacle, backed up by the Jane Jacobs quote ‘New ideas need old buildings’, Pijbes is certain that this intervention will ‘give people a 21st century reason to come here’.
Yet along with the new, there is a clear respect for the past, and preserving the history of the architecture is integral to the plan. The swirling staircase will be at the heart of the Foundation’s Landverhuizersmuseum, a migration museum, which explores the history of Rotterdam’s role as a port for migration from Europe to Ellis Island. ‘It’s important to the city to embrace the past, because there’s very little history left,’ says Pijbes. ‘You can feel the narrative of the harbour city of Rotterdam – it’s the DNA of the city.’ Without many remaining ‘monuments’ to history across the city, Pijbes sees the Fenix warehouse, which will be restored and renovated by Bureau Polderman, and the port location as a monumental space worth celebrating.
The original 360m long Fenix warehouse, previously called the San Francisco warehouse, was designed by architect C.N. van Goor and first built in 1922 when it was named the largest warehouse in the world. It was then rebuilt in two parts in 1954 after suffering fire damage after the Rotterdam Blitz, and named Fenix (translation: Phoenix).
And while the migration-themed museum is destined for Fenix 1, at Fenix 2, local practice Mei Architects has just completed a new mixed use project – the Fenix Lofts and Fenix Dock. The project features a renovation of the two-storey warehouse into a dance school and workspaces, plus a block of cascading apartments wedged on top. Increasing density and the permeability of the building through a public walk-way, the solution is a creative approach to urban regeneration of the Kachendrecht neighbourhood.
Creative grassroots regeneration
Regeneration has become a collective and creative enterprise in Rotterdam, and as the city grows, its modern architecture has become a base for innovation. The vast Hofplein Rotterdam train station and Schieblock office building both built in the 1950s are at the heart of a new urban and landscaping strategy by ZUS architects, who have connected the site to the centre of Rotterdam with the crowd-funded, 390m-long Luchtsingel pedestrian bridge built in 2014. The next part of the plan, a vast rooftop park atop the station, the Luchtpark Hofbogen, concluded the completion of phase one in 2018. The Schieblock office building also gained a rooftop asset, the DakAkker urban roof farm, where vegetables, honey and fruit are grown and cooked up seasonally at Op Het Dak, a restaurant designed by Studio Ossidiana. Rooftops have become an important part of the city’s regeneration, and the network is celebrated each summer at the Rotterdamse Dakendagen, an ‘open rooftop’ festival following a similar format to international franchise Open House.
Rotterdam’s harbour is another area with newly-tapped urban potential. Architecture studio Goldsmith Company describes the harbour as being ‘slowly orphaned’ by the city, and one of their latest designs is part of a new plan for a ‘Foodstrip’ for food production to bring new purpose back to the area. The architects combined technology with agricultural architecture to create the Floating Farm Dairy for 40 cows, and they are currently working on two new prototypes for floating farms in Rotterdam Harbour – one for vegetables, and one for 7000 chickens.
Meanwhile an artistic approach to regeneration is happening east of the city centre in the M4H neighbourhood. Artist Joep van Lieshout, opened his atelier there back in the mid-1990s when it was a red light district, and he’s now taking the neighbourhood’s development into his own hands. After purchasing land from the city in the area, he has drawn up brutalism-inspired designs for The Brutus, a new block of artists’ studios, apartments, a restaurant, hotel and an art gallery, reflecting his artistic philosophy and directly connected to the city by a cycle path. Watch this space, he says.
Rotterdam’s residential fabric
Across the city, emerging architects have been working with the Klushuizen scheme to improve the existing stock of mostly 20th century buildings. The initiative, first launched by the city municipality in 2003, gives architects the opportunity to buy cheap, dilapidated buildings from the city in exchange for their renovation. Slowly but surely, the scheme is contributing to the overall improvement of the historic social and residential fabric of Rotterdam – over 500 houses have been purchased under the scheme since it launched, and its success has seen the scheme migrate from Rotterdam to other Dutch cities.
This DIY approach to renovation supported by Rotterdam has given emerging architects the opportunity to gain experience and grow. Architects Eklund Terbeek, Shift Architecture Urbanism and Studio Nauta have each worked on recent renovation projects that bring new function to under-appreciated historic buildings, contribute to wider neighbourhood regeneration, and are in line with urgent environmental concerns in architecture.
‘In the light of climate change challenges and the growing awareness of using resources more sustainably, the DIY housing concept has only gained more relevance and has paved the way for further experiments – like houses in vacant offices or school buildings that provide a second life to the existing, outdated, built stock of the city. After all, re-use of what is already there is the most basic, and perhaps the most crucial, principle of a sustainable city development,’ says Shift Architecture Urbanism. §