The return of the sculpture on Dudok’s Bijenkorf to the Coolsingel

For almost twenty years now, Rotterdam art lovers have been trying to bring the sculpture by Hendrik van den Eijnde, the only remnant of the old Bijenkorf department store by architect W.M Dudok, back to the place where it belongs: the Coolsingel. The omens are favourable: it may happen soon.

Facade sculpture of the old Bijenkorf of Rotterdam, made in 1930 by Hendrik van den Eijnde, current location near the store's expedition area in Woerden
A procession of craftsmen

Woerden


As early as 2005, Aad Koster, board member of the Roterodamum Historical Society, raised the alarm: the Bijenkorf sculpture had been wasting away for decades on a business park in Woerden. There, at the Bijenkorf’s distribution center, the artwork was placed in 1973.

Three Rotterdam citizens around the Bijenkorf sculpture at its temporary location in woerden, The Netherlands
Measuring the sculpture

Plaque

The sculpture is often referred to as the “gevelsteen” (plaque) but that’s not entirely correct because the artwork was not embedded in the facade, but balanced on a concrete beam that protruded from the corner of the building.

On one side of the stone, van den Eijnde made a procession of craftsmen, led by a musician with a guitar-like instrument. On the other side, modern means of transport can be seen: airplanes, boats, trains. And on the head, in bold Art Deco letters, is the name of the store: De Bijenkorf.

The facade sculpture of the old Bijenkorf department store in Rotterdam at the logistic center in Woerden, The Netherlands
Planes, boats and trains

The ravages of time

The robust artwork is in good condition for its age. Some moss grows here and there and there is a single sooty smear that may be traced back to the fire after the bombing on May 14, 1940. But I like it when you can read the ravages of time on an object.

Details van de Bijenkorf-gevelsteen van Hendrik van den Eijnde, gewijd aan het moderne leven in de jaren twintig en dertig, met beelden uit techniek, scheepvaart en kunst
Details of the Bijenkorf sculpture

Back to Rotterdam

Wouldn’t that sculpture by van den Eijnde look much better on the Coolsingel? Preferably in the original location, as a reminder of Dudok’s regretted monument? Some Rotterdammers became very enthusiastic about that idea. Others mainly saw bumps in the road: cables and pipes, financing, weak soil.

via GIPHY

Artistic value

And one connoisseur claimed that the sculpture does not represent great artistic value and is not the artist’s best work. Well, it remains subjective and it’s not quite my field of expertise, but I think it’s a cool object with an overwhelming 1930s look.

Close-up of the facade sculpture of the old Bijenkorf store in Rotterdam, made by sculptor Hendrik van den Eijnde: a striking resemblance with Mount Rushmore
Close-up of the craftsmen

World Heritage

But of course much more important is the emotional value of the work. This sculpture is the only physical remnant of a legendary building. The brutal demolition in 1960 was a historic mistake because if the Bijenkorf had still been there, it would have been Rotterdam’s second contribution to the Unesco World Heritage List, next to the Van Nelle factory. I dare to make that claim. For that reason alone, the sculpture deserves a place on the Coolsingel.

Black and white drawing of the former Bijenkorf department store by architect W.M. Dudok, as a ghost appearance at its original location on Coolsingel, Churchillplein and Westblaak in Rotterdam, The Netherlands
The old Bijenkorf, projected in current day Rotterdam

Artists

For a long time it was mainly artists who kept the memory of Dudok’s Bijenkorf alive. Colleague photographer Jan Sluijter, for example, who built an extensive collection of photos of the building, or film-maker Peter Veenendaal who made the beautiful documentary City of Light. And don’t forget yours truly: the artist impressions I made clearly show the position of the sculpture at the time.

Details from three artist impressions of the old Bijenkorf department store by architect Dudok, showing the location of the famous face sculpture
The sculpture from three different angles

Interview

On May 20, 2015 I was interviewed about the artwork by the magazine 010NU of Open Rotterdam TV. I showed the place, next to the pavilions with the McDonalds and the tourist information, where the old Bijenkorf once stood.

Politician Bart-Joost van Rij of the Leefbaar Rotterdam party, also in the broadcast, was not immediately convinced. He argued in favor of finding a place in the future Forum building. But, as we know, that never came into being. At least not as the iconic cube that was envisioned at the time. And next to the cash register at the Primark, that’s not really the ideal place for such a sculpture.

Support

Slowly the plan for the repatriation of the artwork gained more and more support. Local media, like RTV Rijnmond and Algemeen Dagblad, picked up the story. Co Engberts, of the Rotterdam PvdA faction, asked questions in the city council. And the Bijenkorf itself, owner of the stone, also gave its blessing.

Screenshots of the interview by RTV Rijnmond with the campaigners for the return of the facade sculpture of the old Bijenkorf to Rotterdam
Activists at the sculpture

Activists

On February 8, 2018, I was interviewed by local TV station RTV Rijnmond, together with fellow supporters Jan Sluijter and Co Engberts. The place of performance was, of course, the location of the sculpture at the time in Woerden . We were introduced as activists; well, of course we are.

Unanimous

On February 22, 2018, the Rotterdam city council voted on a motion about the Bijenkorf sculpture, submitted by the PvdA faction, with the support of Leefbaar Rotterdam, D’66 and the SP. The motion instructs the municipality to cooperate fully with the relocation of the monumental work to the Coolsingel. And it was passed unanimously.

Results of the vote on February 22 in the Rotterdam municipality council about a resolution concerning the return of the Bijenkorf facade sculpture: passed unanimously!
Unanimously!

Refurbishment

Meanwhile, on the Coolsingel, hard work was being done on the refurbishment of Rotterdam’s main boulevard, to a design by Adriaan Geuze and his bureau West 8. His main intervention was to reduce the number of lanes for cars from four to two, which were positioned east of the tram tracks. This created space on the west side for a nice wide cycle path and an esplanade for pedestrians. And for works of art such as Van den Eijnde’s sculpture, exactly where it has been until 1960.

It became clear, however, that this space was not unlimited when a team from the municipality, led by urban planner Monique Marijnissen, set out to determine the final location. The esplanade is fool of trees, lampposts, bicycle racks and planters. Underground are the aforementioned cables and pipes and let’s not forget the Beurs metro station. In addition, a route must be kept clear for emergency services at all times.

Plan of Churchillplein and the southernmost part of Coolsingel in Rotterdam, with the outile of the former Bijenkorf department store and the proposed location of the schulpture
The old Bijenkorf and the proposed location of the sculpture

New location

Still, that search led to a beautiful spot. Not quite exactly at the old location but about 35 meters to the north. Seen from the moon, that distance is not noticeable. The intention is for the stone to be placed in the same orientation as it was at the time: at an angle to the current Coolsingel. A silent witness to the fact that the city map has changed radically: before the war, the Coolsingel bent to the right here to connect with Schiedamsvest.

Artist impression of the sculpture by Hendrik van den Eijnde from the facade of architect W.M.Dudok's Bijenkorf department store, back on its original location on Coolsingel in Rotterdam
No, this ain’t a photo, it’s an artist impression

Pedestal

Restoration specialists Meesters-In in Ameide made a plan for the restoration and relocation. Designer Jan Konings devised a pedestal on which the stone comes into its own perfectly. And I made an image that was presented to the world on January 21, 2022 through the broadcast of TV Rijnmond below. In this item, Luuk de Boer of Roterodamum tells about the crowdfunding campaign that will start on February 1. The municipality also opens the wallet, but all Rotterdammers are given the opportunity to make a contribution. And hopefully the Bijenkorf sculpture can be placed later this year. I predict a high new entry in the Rotterdam Public Sculpture top 10


Furthermore, I have the opinion that Dudok’s Bijenkorf should be rebuilt in its entirety. But that’s the next chapter.

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