The Reconstruction Top 10 – Rotterdam Highlights from 1945-1970

The the post-war reconstruction period of Rotterdam lasted roughly from 1945 to 1970. That doesn’t mean that there were no empty spaces left to fill after that. But still: in those first 25 years after the Second World War, the center of Rotterdam changed from a barren plain back into a bustling city. And in that quarter of a century a lot of exceptional buildings were built in the city. That calls for a (extremely subjective) top 10.

Historical layers

It is a common misconception that Rotterdam is not very interesting in terms of architectural history because all history has been bombed out of it in 1940. And yes, it’s true that much beauty was lost in May of that year, and that after that even the city plan was altered beyond recognition. But in the new city as it has grown in the past 75 years, quite a few historical layers can be discovered.

The reconstruction period is particularly interesting because in those years (let’s limit it to the period from 1945 to 1970) pretty good architecture was built (and unfortunately some of it even has been demolished already). The buildings from that time are generally fairly sober, but often have some subtle embellishments or other frivolities.

In the seventies and eighties the reconstruction got a little off course, unfortunately, with the overuse of mirror facades, laminate panels, plastic frames and cheap brick. Since then, I feel we’re doing better again.

I’ve made a top ten of my favorite buildings from the first 25 post-war years. That’s of course a reflection of my own taste, which does not mean that there cannot not be any discussion about (did you notice that I’ve enabled comments on this blog again?) And although the number one and two or are fixed, the exact order of the other entries is a snapshot; tomorrow I may think quite differently.

10: The Akragon

location: Schiekade; architect Hugh Maaskant; year of completion: 1970

The Akragon and part of the Technikon in Rotterdam, photographed in the golden hour from Luchtsingel, with the railway line to Dordrecht in the foreground.

This tower of sports halls, currently operated as a fitness center, is part of the school complex Technikon which took fourteen years to build and which also includes the Hofpleintheater, with a beautiful facade sculpture by Karel Appel. The architect would have liked the tower to be higher, but it was in the sixties that was not done; Maaskant was ahead of his time.

9: Maastorenflat

location: Vasteland; architect Herman Bakker; year of completion: 1956

Maastorenflat near Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam, a modest highrise building from the 1950's, photographed around sunset from the other side of Leuvehaven

A nice stack of functions, with shops, two layers of offices, a transition layer, apartments, and a penthouse, all shaped differently. And it’s a good thing that there are no blind elevations; on all four sides something interesting happens: windows, balconies, staircases.

8: Station Post Office

location: Delftseplein; architects: Evert and Herman Kraaijvanger; year of completion: 1959

The former Railway Station Post Office, nowadays Central Post, on Delftsestraat in Rotterdam, photographed during the golden hour
The Post Office

I have sorted mail here during my years at the university, for some extra income. Even then I was impressed by the large, high-ceilinged rooms with huge glass windows. And by the decorations in the stairwell and on the front façade. Several years ago, the building was converted to a design by Claus and Kaan into an office tenant complex, with the name Central Post.

7: De Nederlandsche Bank

location: Boompjes; architect Henri Zwiers; year of completion: 1955

Former suboffice of the dutch National Bank at Boompjes in Rotterdam, photographed in late afternoon from Scheepmakershaven
Nederlandsche Bank

During the reconstruction period a few of these traditionalist bank buildings have been build in Rotterdam. Bankers at that time were not really into the modernist architecture that was built elsewhere in the city center. A heavy stone plinth, subtle decorative brickwork, windows in concrete frames, bronze sculptures by William Verbon on the roof. After years of vacancy the property is now being redeveloped into an office building.

6: Bijenkorf

location: Coolsingel; architect Marcel Breuer; year of completion: 1957

The new Bijenkorf department store on Coolsingel in Rotterdam, designed by Marcel Breuer, with in front of it the sculpture by Naum Gabo, nicknamed The Thing
The New Bijenkorf

It does not even come close to the old Bijenkorf department store by W.M.Dudok but hey, that was the most beautiful building that was constructed in the Netherlands during the twentieth century. This new store is much more closed ( TL lighting had been invented in the meantime). Yet I like it, that sturdy box with a couple of  strategicly placed big openings and with the honeycomb facade that only looks better with increasing pollution. And of course with the sculpture by Naum Gabo, although that could use some major maintenance.

5: Huf

location: Hoogstraat; architects: Jo van den Broek and Jaap Bakema; year of completion: 1953

Huf Building, a national monument from the reconstruction era, photographed from the square near Saint Lawrence Church, late in the afternoon, with the building and its lighting reflecting in Delftsevaart
Huf building

A fairly transparent box with a finely detailed curtain wall and a few closed elements that make it more interesting. A few years ago, it was restored to a design by Wessel de Jonge, after years of decay. I would have loved a redevelopment with restaurant, cafe and dancing on the upper floors. But, of course, it was always a shoe shop with offices above it and that’s it still.

4: The Eye Hospital

location: Schiedamsevest; architect: Ad van der Steur; year of completion: 1948

The Eye Hospital at Schiedamsevest in Rotterdam, a remarkable building from the reconstruction era, photographed on an autumn afternoon
Eye Hospital

It does not always have to be all straight and modernistic; a little ecclecticism is welcome every once in a while. An ornament is not a crime, in my opinion, though some may think otherwise. Of all the post-war buildings, the Eye Hospital is the most extreme in that sense. With all those arches and other decorations it would fit nicely in Florence.

3: The  Industry Building

location: Goudsesingel; architects: Hugh Maaskant and Willem van Tijen; year of completion: 1949

The Industry Building by Maaskant en Van Tijen on Goudsesingel in Rotterdam, photographed at the end of the afternoon when the first lights go on
Industry building

Built a few years before Groothandelsgebouw by the same architects. Slightly more traditional in appearance, through the use of brick, which seems to have been mainly the influence of Van Tijen. Here, too, are developments that should breathe new life into the building; the relocation of MVRDV to the halls at the back is already a good sign.

2: De Doelen

location: Schouwburgplein; architects: Evert and Herman Kraaijvanger, Rein Fledderus; year of completion: 1966

Evening image of concert and congress hall De Doelen in Rotterdam, reflecting in the wet steel and wood of Schouwburgplein
De Doelen

A very important building in the city due to its function as a concert hall and as the home base for the film festival. But it also happens to be my polling station once every few years. A square volume from which the main concert hall stands out as a green copper box.. Around that hall is a large and festive foyer, surrounded by a beautiful layered facade.

1: The Groothandelsgebouw

location: Weena; architects: Hugh Maaskant and William of Tijen; year of completion: 1953

Groothandelsgebouw in Rotterdam, monument from the reconstruction era, photographed from Weena during sunset

Just about the first thing you see as you leave the railwaystation is the Groothandelsgebouw, or Grand Trade Building. A solid city block with a supply road right through it and a cinema (unfortunately no longer in use as such) on the roof. With a facade that is rich in detail; note the various window compositions and the almost frivolous, concrete fences. The building also has a beautiful vertical structure: both at the bottom and at the top there are two or three specially designed floors. Undoubtedly the well-deserved number 1 in this Rotterdam Reconstruction Top 10

More images of the Groothandelsgebouw
Another interesting list: the Rotterdam Public Sculpture top 10

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