The Rotterdam Staircase – a Stairway to Heaven

The Staircase, Rotterdam’s successful temporary tourist attraction, is taken down, but fortunately we still have the photos. In five weeks time 368.611 people climbed the 180 steps to the top of the structure of wood and scaffolding pipe, an idea of my esteemed former colleague Winy Maas. Allthough it’s likely that in reality there were just a few less, because I went up four times and I was probably counted every time.

The station square and the Staircase, built for the occasion of the event "Rotterdam celebrates the city", as seen from the roof of the Groothandelsgebouw
Arrival at Alpe d’Huez


It’s strange: put a staircase and an escalator next to each other and everyone takes the latter, even if the height difference is just a few meters. But build a stairway to the roof of the nine-storey Groothandelsgebouw and it is a challenge that everyone likes to take. I even know a three year old girl who went all the way up on her own little legs. So as a project to make people exercise more, The Staircase has been successful as well.

Picture taken from the 18th floor of First Rotterdam: the Groothandelsgebouw with cinema Kriterion, Central Station and The Staircase
Grand Trade Building and Central Station

Alpe d’Huez

A journalist from De Volkskrant, who came all the way from Amsterdam to see the structure, wrote about the climb as a fraternizing experience, like climbing the Alpe d’Huez. An apt description, because it surely creates a bond, such an common achievement.

And, as often top of a mountain, the view is amazing. The Groothandelsgebouw is not that high, but with its 33 meter it’s high enough to rise above most of the surrounding buildings.

Visitors admire the skyline of Rotterdam from the roof of the Groothandelsgebouw, with in the foreground one of the courtyards of Maaskant's monument from the reconstruction era
Views inside and outside

Sedum and copper

Below we see for example the Old West neighbourhood. Behind it is a portion of the Rotterdam skyline including the Euromast and the Erasmus Medical Center. In the foreground there’s the sedum which thrives on the roof, framed by the eaves of patinated copper.

The Rotterdam Skyline, including Erasmus Medical Centre and Euromast, catching the last rays of sunlight. In the foreground sedum vegetation and the roof edge of the Groothandelsgebouw
Sedum and the skyline

Steel and glass

On the north side, attention is particularly drawn by the steel and glass of the new Central Station. From this angle it looks a bit like a greenhouse in nearby Westland. Behind it the neighborhood of Blijdorp and on the horizon the towers of Zoetermeer, Delft and The Hague.

The roof of the Central Station in Rotterdam, stainless steel and glass, as seen from the roof of the Groothandelsgebouw at sunset, with a sedum field in the foreground.
The roof of the Central Station


Apart from the view, I’ve also made a lot of pictures of the Groothandelsgebouw itself. After all, the building reached No. 1 on my Reconstruction Top 10. The roof of the building is a world unto itself. A kind of park with plazas, benches, green flower beds, terraces and pavilions. Here the Tweederopbouw, or Second Reconstruction, the occupation of the roofs of Rotterdam, as promoted by Winy Maas, has in fact been completed.

Bench on the roof of the Groothandelsgebouw during sunset, with a couple in a romantic mood in the background
Romantic moments…

Wealth of details

What an amazing building Maaskant has created here in the nineteen fifties. What a wealth of details and how beautiful the restoration of a few years ago worked out.

One of the courtyards of Maaskant's Groothandelsgebouw in Rotterdam during sunset
Dramatic sky over Groothandelsgebouw

What’s in a name?

And how peculiar, by the way, that so often Rotterdam architects have the river Maas in their name…

Reflection of the setting sun on one of the facades of the Groothandelsgebouw in Rotterdam
In the golden hour


Actually, the roof should always be publicly accessible. Watching the sun set from the Groothandelsgebouw, that’s an experience that every tourist who visits the city should be able to experience.

Sunset as seen from the roof of the Groothandelsgebouw in Rotterdam with one of the courtyards of the building in the foreground
Sunrise over Blijdorp

Waiting for the next Staircase

Now that the Staircase is demolished, the scaffolds are re-used on construction sites and the timber of the steps is transformed into benches, we’ll have to wait for the Collection building. That building has also been designed by Winy Maas’ office MVRDV. And it also holds a Staircase with a capital S.

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