Summer Evening on a Rooftop in Rotterdam
It’s widely known that a lot of things in Rotterdam are named after Erasmus. The university, the medical center, a major bridge, to name but a few. No everyone knows that there is also an Erasmus House. Which is in fact not really a house in the traditional meaning of the word. It’s a 12 storey high office tower at Coolsingel, with the 17th century Schielandshuis and a number of post-war highrise buildings as neighbors. Its rooftop is a perfect location for photographing downtown Rotterdam.
The building was designed by architect W.M Dudok and was completed shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War. It survived the bombardment on 14 May 1940 in relatively good state, unlike the nearby Bijenkorf store, also by Dudok, which was badly damaged and was demolished after the war.
Erasmus House has been in use for decades at the HBU, the Hollandsche Bank Unie. Since they left in 2013, the office floors are let to various companies and Grand-café La Buvette is located on the ground floor. Thanks to the hospitality of La Buvette and the initiatives of Ramazan Aydogan of Rotta Historica I was allowed to visit the roof on August 31, 2018, together with a few dozen other photographers.
The golden hour
The conditions were perfect. We reached the roof, after a long climb through Dudok’s design stairwell, at half past seven. Another two hours to sunset. A dark cloud, which had been hovering above Rotterdam just before, moved away and from the west the sun set the city in a beautiful light. A golden hour if ever there was one.
The rooftop on a tower of a mere twelve floors generates a different experience than the roof of Delftse Poort, the highest building in the center of Rotterdam. But one can also take beautiful pictures from a slightly lower roof. If only because of the beautiful vistas between the higher towers. Take, for example, this almost abstract picture. A play of horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines featuring the open bridge part of Erasmus Bridge and the oblique facade of Renzo Piano’s KPN Tower.
Also the recently constructed ferris wheel The Dinner Wheel, on the grass field next to the Markthal, was nicely visible in a similar view.
With the telephoto lens, surprising details can be obtained from such a relatively high position. Here we see, for example, the bells in the tower of the Stock Exchange. Just like Erasmus House, that building was completed just before the war. When those bells are ringing, as a local resident I know that it is 1.25 pm.
The sun went down at 8.30 pm this evening. The sunset itself was hidden from view because there were higher buildings in the way. But what happened around us was much more interesting. Lights in homes, offices and shops went on, as well as street lamps, car lights and neon signs. The golden hour slowly turned into the blue hour.
The two Bijenkorfs
Erasmus House is in between two incarnations of the Bijenkorf store: the old and the new one. These days the old one only exists in the imagination. You need a map or an artist impression to understand where exactly the building was located: on Coolsingel, Westblaak and Churchillplein. All that’s left of that monument is the sculpture by Hendrik van den Eijnde, which will hopefully one day return to its original location.
The new Bijenkorf opened in 1957 on the other side; unfortunately not designed by Dudok, but by Marcel Breuer. Still a pretty cool building. On the side of Coolsingel, there’s a sculpture by Naum Gabo, nicknamed The Thing, number ten in my Rotterdam Public Sculpture Top 10.
In the west we see, between office building Coolse Poort and residential building Karel Doorman, a road called Binnenweg. For centuries this was the connection between Rotterdam and Delfshaven. From bottom to top: Binnenwegplein, the Old Binnenweg and the New Binnenweg.
It is easy to see that most of the buildings on Binnenwegplein are at an angle to the Binnenweg axis. That’s a result of the rapidly changing thoughts about this area in the first years of the post-war reconstruction period. Initially the urban planners wanted a very wide version of Binnenweg to connect to Rochussenstraat. But that plan was abandoned in favour of the creation of Westblaak, after which the broad part of Binnenweg was made into a square.
In the opposite direction, we see the tower with the hole, or the Blaak Office Tower. This one was formerly also known as the Fortis building, designed by Helmut Jahn and completed in 1995. On the right is the former Robeco tower, soon the accommodation of assurance company Allianz. In the foreground is the rooftop of Schielandshuis, the only 17th century building in downtown Rotterdam. Unfortunately it’s currently largely hidden from view by scaffolding and therefore temporarily less photogenic.
With memory cards full of epic photos of Rotterdam, we descended Dudok’s designer stairwell at about half past nine. There are countless other Rotterdam rooftops on the wish list. Ramazan has already promised that he is going to do his best. Will undoubtedly be continued.
And talking about summer: did you already me featuring in an episode of the famous Dutch TV show Zomergasten, elsewhere on this blog?