The Reconstruction of Rotterdam Revised

This year we commemorate that eighty years ago the reconstruction of Rotterdam started. On May 14, 1940, much of the city was destroyed by the German bombardment and subsequent fire. Just four days later, on May 18, city architect W.G. Witteveen was commissioned to make a plan for the rebuilding. The ultimate Basic Plan for Reconstruction, drawn by Witteveen’s successor Cornelis van Traa, was not aproved by the city council until 1946. As a result of that Plan, the street map of the city center was drastically changed in many places.

As I searched through my Rotterdam archive, I came across a thirty-year-old brochure, published in 1990 to celebrate fifty years of reconstruction. On its front page is a nice print of the Basic Plan, sparking post-war optimism to the max.

The Basic Plan for the Reconstruction of Rotterdam by Cornelis van Traa from 1946, on a brochure published on the occasion of 50 years of reconstruction in 1990
The Basic Plan for the Reconstruction of Rotterdam


The reconstruction was largely carried out according to that Basic Plan from 1946, but on closer inspection you can see that there were also a lot of deviations. In a number of cases that was a good thing. I am glad, for example, that the large open space on the site of the Old Harbor never came about: a kind of Tiananmen Square with a huge roundabout in the middle. And fortunately also the filling of the Westersingel and the demolition of the villas on Parklaan did not happen.

Lost in reconstruction

On the other hand, the Basic Plan also had some elements that unfortunately were lost somewhere in the reconstruction era. In Van Traa’s plan, for example, part of the New Harbour, parallel to Haringvliet canal, was preserved. There were green walking routes through the Lijnbaan area. A broad green avenue was envisioned along the Stokviswater, the newly made connection between the Rotte river and Delftsevaart canal. And is that a marina there near Maasboulevard?

The Basic Plan for the Reconstruction of Rotterdam from 1946, with a number of mutations, elements the were not completed, or differently
Deviations from the Basic Plan


Also with regard to city parks, the ambitions of the Basic Plan have not been fully realized. Museumpark, not yet largely filled with hospitals and museums, was in Van Traa’s view at least twice as large as it is today. And in the middle of Kralingen a huge triangular central park was planned, which in reality was largely filled with rather dull housing blocks in the 1980’s.


The most fascinating items in the Basic Plan drawing are the trees. I assume that they should not be taken too literally. If these were really all the planned trees, the new Rotterdam would have become a bit bare. I therefore consider van Traa’s trees more as monumental elements: stately rows of trees along wide boulevards, loose groups of trees in parks and green strips.

Section of the Basic Plan for the Reconstruction of Rotterdam from 1946
The heart of the city, according to the Basic Plan


For large building projects, a so-called revision drawing is often made after completion. It shows the actual built situation, which often deviates from the original drawings, because there are sometimes new circumstances or insights during the construction process.

As far as I know, such a drawing was never made for the Basic Plan, so I decided to do that task. Here is the result:

A "post-completion drawing" of the Basic Plan for the Reconstruction of Rotterdam bij Cornelis van Traa from 1946, with the city as it has been built in the 80 years after the 1940 bombing
The revision drawing

This is the map that van Traa, if he’d had the gift of prophecy, could have drawn in ’46 already. I wonder what he would have thought of it. He will search in vain for his great Square. He probably would have despised the architecture from the seventies and eighties. But he probably could have appreciated Erasmus Bridge, the Railway Tunnel and the Southbank developments. Anyway, this city will never be completed. Onward to the celebration of a hundred years of reconstruction in 2040!

Woman in a museum looks at a revision plan of the post-war reconstruction of Rotterdam
The revision map in a fictional museum

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