Rotterdam, Oostplein: Return of the Windmill

A while ago I saw on Vimeo the movie Rotterdam 2040, created by Gyz la Riviere. Highly recommended: the film is full of archival footage of Rotterdam in various eras. The film also makes you think about the typical Rotterdam tendency to constantly demolish historic buildings for the sake of progress, or for other reasons.

Of course, the German Air Force in 1940 had a disproportionate share of the demolition. But you would expect that people would have been more careful with what was left, precisely because of that bombing. But the opposite happened. Many buildings that could have been saved with a little effort were destroyed shortly after the bombing because they did not fit into the plans for a modern city. And even after the war one monument after another fell prey to the breakers.

Gyz’ list

Gyz has compiled a list of buildings that, in his opinion, should be rebuilt. For one of those, Dudok’s Bijenkorf I’ve been making a case myself in recent years.

Often however, before the rebuilding can begin, a few tricky questions have to be answered. Such as: who will pay? Or: what will we do with such a monument once resurrected? And moreover: almost always there is now another building on the original site. For the Koninginnekerk, you would have to demolish a retirement home; for the theatre at the Aert van Nesstraat you’d even have to relocate the Lijnbaan shopping street.

The current situation at Oostplein in Rotterdam: asphalt, tram tracks, pavement and ugly architecture
Oostplein now: asphalt, tram tracks. pavements and ugly architecture

Traffic junction

For one building on the list those concerns hardly apply: windmill De Noord on Oostplein. It survived the bombing but was destroyed in 1954 in a “regular” fire. A proposed reconstruction was rejected by the city council because the windmill had been in the way of traffic anyway. That’s how Oostplein became the windy traffic junction that doesn’t really deserve the name square.

There is room enough for a mill. And about the use of the building, you do not even have to think: a tavern with terrace where obviously sandwiches will be served made with home-ground flour. And this also answers the financial questions, at least partially.

A greener Oostplein

I’ve made a virtual reconstruction and I have taken the opportunity to make the stony square somewhat greener; throughout the city the trams are now driving through grass, so why not at the Oostplein? This is what it would look like:

Windmill De Noord, reconstructed on the Oostplein in Rotterdam
Oostplein with reconstructed windmill

Rebuilding windmills has been done before. In nearby Schiedam they’ve almost made it a habit. So it could certainly be done in Rotterdam as well. And maybe we’ll like it so much that we start working our way through the rest of Gyz’ list.

Guerrilla marketing

My actions did not remain completely unnoticed; it’s time for an update. Through the artist impression, I got into contact with Gyz. Together we launched a guerrilla marketing campaign to raise awareness of the possibility of rebuilding the windmill. We had 2000 postcards printed, which we distributed in local bars, restaurants and other places:

Postcard of Oostplein in Rotterdam
That’s how it could be…

Polictics and media

Also the mayor and aldermen, political parties and the media received a copy. The AD/Rotterdams Dagblad published an article which evoked enthusiastic responses from, among others, windmill lovers and shopkeepers on nearby Oostzeedijk.

One windmill expert pointed out to me that I had pictured the blades in reverse. Dutch windmills’ blades all appear to rotate in the same direction. Well, that’s an issue that will certainly be resolved in the case of an actual reconstruction.

Two questions were frequently asked:
– How much will the rebuilding cost?
– Where on the Oostplein should the mill be located?

The price tag

Without detailed construction drawings it’s hard to answer the question about the cost. But rebuilding windmills has been done before; some googling shows that budgets are between half a million euros to … a little bit more. Windmill De Kameel in Schiedam was rebuilt between 2008 and 2011 for around 2.5 million euros. And that windmill, with its height of 33 meters (without blades) compares well with windmill De Noord.

Two and a half million, it’s far above my daily budget, but for a city like Rotterdam it is not too prohibitive. The three so-called Rotterdam city initiatives (Luchtsingel, Ice Rink, Rif010) of recent years, for example, had budgets between three to five million.

Where?

But then the second question: what’s the correct location? The map below shows Oostplein as it looks today. A rather complicated square; as many as eight roads lead to it. Clockwise: Burgemeester van Walsumweg, Groenendaal, Hoogstraat, Goudsesingel, Boezemweg, Slaak, Oostzeedijk and Oostmolenwerf (East Mill’s Wharf, what’s in a name?).

As a result the square is a jumble of car lanes (brown), cycle paths (red) and tram lines (purple). Underground is a metro station (red dotted line) which should be taken into account. In the middle of the square is a tiny park, surrounded by a lot of stony surfaces.

Plan of Oostplein in Rotterdam
Current situation at the Oostplein

The wandering square

An interesting question is where exactly the windmill was located untill 1954. The following map shows the pre-war building blocks in relation to the current situation. After the bombing of 1940, quite a few changes were made to the street plan, as was already made clear by my double map of Rotterdam. Oostplein moved a little distance to the west. The windmill, which on old photos is close to the surrounding buildings, now would end up middle of the square:

Oostplein in Rotterdam with pre-war city blocks
Oostplein with in orange the pre-war city blocks

Visibility

Annoyingly, that spot is just above the metro station. It’s unlikely the construction of the station is prepared to a windmill being placed on top of it. Therefore, a better place is a little further towards Goudsesingel. Not too far because too close to the apartment tower on the corner with Boezemweg could raise objections. Also, the tramway is better thought of as a given; moving it leads to unnecessary costs. Thus emerges the ideal place from where the mill is easily visible from Hoogstraat, Goudsesingel, Oostzeedijk and Oostmolenwerf/Maasboulevard:

Plan of Oostplein in Rotterdam with the perfect locatie for the windmill
Vistas towards the windmill

East Park

Rebuilding the windmill must be part of an extensive redevelopment of Oostplein. But the municipality is already having that in mind, so that’s fine. By replacing much of the pavement by greenery, Oostplein might even become a kind of park. It could look something like this:

Future plan of Oostplein in Rotterdam
A green Oostplein with windmill

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