Vintage Postcards of Rotterdam in the Twenties

This blog post is made for growth. A few years ago I produced a series of artificially aged postcards of Rotterdam, seemingly from a bygone era but with contemporary landmarks such as the Markthal, Central Station and Erasmus Bridge. In the meantime, a new generation of architectural highlights is under construction or just completed and that called for a new series of vintage postcards.

There are still fences, scaffolding, site huts or other disfiguring elements around a number of those projects, so I’ll have to wait for the right time to strike. I will place the new additions to the series on this page as soon as I have dug them up from Photoshop’s aging bath; the collection will therefore gradually grow in the coming years.

Fenix and the Whoremonger

These new old postcards are usually most successful when they contain both old and new elements, because in that case the alienating effect is the strongest. That condition has been taken care of at Fenix ​​1 in Katendrecht, a monumental hundred-year-old warehouse that was topped with a spectacular residential building to a design by Mei Architects. That addition looks, especially on this postcard, as if it has been there for much longer than a few years. In the warehouse itself is room for retail and hospitality (the Fenix ​​Food Factory) and culture (Conny Janssen Danst and Codarts)

In the foreground we see Rijnhaven harbour and Rijnhaven bridge. The latter, nicknamed the Whoremonger as a reference to the illustrious past of Katendrecht, dates from 2012 and looks unmistakably 21st century, but is by no means out of place in this quasi-historical scene.

Artificially aged postcard of the renovated and extended Fenix Warehouse in Rotterdam Katendrecht with in the foreground Rijnhaven harbour and Rijnhaven Bridge, nicknamed the Whore Runner
Warehouse, bridge and harbour

Forum Rotterdam

It is not everyone’s favorite recent project, Forum Rotterdam. And to be honest: I would also have preferred to see the giant cube that my former employer OMA presented for this location in 2008. Apparently, that plan faced some headwinds from the zeitgeist because over the years it was steadily cut back until there was nothing left but patching up the existing buildings and filling in the remaining space with a Primark store.

On the other hand: the monumental bank building on Coolsingel, including the Donner bookshop, has been beautifully renovated. And about that residential tower, with its hanging balconies, formerly the office colossus of ABN Amro: you may not think it’s very pretty but you should have seen it before the make-over.

Artificially aged vintage postcard in style of the 1950's, with Coolsingel boulvard, Koopgoot shopping mall and Forum Rotterdam
Forum and Coolsingel

The Terraced Tower

Don’t laugh, I didn’t come up with that name. Is it correct English, The Terraced Tower? Is to terrace really a verb? In the Rotterdam vernacular, fond of nicknames, I’ve already heard alternatives such as the Newspaper Bin or the Stack of Pallets.

I have much less criticism about the architecture. In fact, I think that looking really good. Typical architecture from the twenties, with lots of glass and wood, striking horizontal lines and carefully worked out irregularities.

The residential tower, with shops and restaurants on the ground floor, was designed by OZ architects from Amsterdam. Unlike many other recent new buildings in Rotterdam, no former colleagues of mine have worked on this project, but there is still a link with my architectural past. Until 1995, Office for Metropolitan Architecture, the office of Rem Koolhaas, was located here, in an office building designed by Herman Bakker in the 1960s. So when it was demolished a few years ago, nothing less than a piece of architectural history was demolished. But it’s nice that the contours of that building are visible in this new tower.

Artificially aged photograph, transormed into a vintage postcard, showing the new residential building The Terraced Tower on Boompjes boulevard in Rotterdam, The Netherlands
The Terraced Tower, Boompjes boulevard and the Nieuwe Maas river

Leuvehaven and Port Pavillion

The Leuvehaven, created around 1600, is the oldest excavated harbor in Rotterdam. And today it is one of the nicest places in the city center because of the historic ships, cranes and other harbor features in the outdoor area of ​​the Maritime Museum.

Between the harbor and the adjacent Schiedamsedijk, there have long been three “boxes” (as architects like to call such structures) with workshops and cafes. You couldn’t say much positive about them other than that they were functional. The boxes have recently been demolished and replaced by a large new Port Pavillion, designed by the Rotterdam firm Motherschein Moonen Architects. It has a striking facade of aluminum triangles that refers to cranes and trusses from the port. The new pavilion is a lot more compact, so that there is a better view from the Dijk to the harbor; in this way the old concept of ​​the Window to the River is somewhat restored.

The ingredients for a good vintage postcard are present. Historic inland vessels, sloops, jetties and a floating crane and at the same time the modern buildings for the alienating effect. Well, new buildings… Dudok’s Erasmus House, in the middle background, is already over eighty years old.

Artificially aged vintage postcard of Leuvehaven harbour in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, with historic vessels and cranes, the Maritime Museum, the new Port Pavillion and the modern downtown highrise

The Depot

Not everyone was happy with the plans of the Boymans van Beuningen museum for a collection building in the Museum Park. After all, if you build in a park, it’s inevitable to cut some trees. And nobody expected much of the proposed trees on the roof, if they would get there at all.

But if my esteemed ex-colleague Winy Maas promises you a shiny pot with a forest on the roof, you will get a shiny pot with a forest on the roof. And because the walls of the rooftop restaurant are also reflecting, that forest seems even larger than it actually is.

Now that it’s there, everyone is enthusiastic about the building, from the international press to the average Rotterdammer. I don’t have any hard data, but I assume that “The Pot” is the most frequently photographed building in the city. That nickname, by the way, was coined by Winy himself, or at least he introduced it once during an interview.

Of course I had to add a postcard of the Depot to this twenties collection. It looks like the building had been there for almost a century, just like the museum itself. But don’t get fooled: if you look very closely, you can spot some construction fences in the reflection.

Artificially aged photo of the new Depot building of the Boymans van Beuningen museum in Rotterdam, transformed into a vintage postcard
Boymans and the Depot

Veerhaven and Zalmhaven tower

These postcard pastiches, I wrote it before, work best when there are both old and new elements in the picture. Those conditions are met at the Veerhaven, with its historic sailing ships. And the surrounding buildings of the Scheepvaartkwartier, dating from the period around 1900, also contribute to that atmosphere.

The Zalmhaven Tower and its two little brothers have recently risen above it. The latter two were designed by KAAN Architecten, Zalmhaven I is by Dam and Partners. With its 215 meters, including mast, it is the tallest building in the Netherlands.

What I wonder is whether those two balconies on each facade belong to the same apartment. You don’t want to think about it: owning an expensive apartment almost 200 meters above the city, but still being at an arm’s lenght of potentially unsympathetic neighbors. On the other hand: if they belonged to the same apartment, I would have just turned them into one large terrace.

Well, enough whining. In any case, it is a good thing that the skyline of Rotterdam, dominated for years by towers of a mere hundred meters, now has a skyscraper that really stands out. Although I suspect that the Zalmhaven tower will not be the only one for long.

Artifically aged vintage postcard made of a photo of the Veerhaven marina in Rotterdam, The Netherlands with historic sailboat and in the background 19th century buildings as well as the brand new Zalmhaven tower

Coming soon

The following projects are on my to-do list:

  • Little C.
  • Coolsingel (when all the pavement stones have been laid)
  • Residential towers The Muse, Casanova and OurDomain at the Wijnhaven

In the meantime, here is once again the earlier series of old postcards:

Frans Blok

My work explores the border regions of photography, painting and computer visuals. With my company 3Develop I do work in commission but I use the same techniques, skills and software to make free work. I am originally an architect and I live in Rotterdam; for that reason the architecture of that city is a major (but not the only) source of inspiration. But also travel to countries like Iceland and Britain, or walks in the Netherlands, provide much material. Seeing and showing quality and beauty, that is what my work is about.

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