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. Some people already talk about the Roaring Twenties. That is, of course, a nod to the 1920s, which brought Rotterdam the Van Nelle factory and Dudok’s Bijenkorf, among others. It’s too early to say for sure that these Twenties will as Roaring as the previous, but a new series of vintage postcards seems in order.
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 vintage 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. The monumental hundred-year-old warehouse was topped with a spectacular residential building to a design by Mei Architects. Especially on this postcard, the addition looks 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. It looks unmistakably 21st century, but is by no means out of place in this quasi-historical scene.
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. 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.
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.
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. That building has been 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 mentioned in the vintage postcards cookbook 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.
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.
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.
Little C and Tuschinski Park
Few places in Rotterdam have improved so much recently as the area around the G.J. de Jonghweg. For years, this was a vacant piece of land between busy roads. And in the eighties this was even the street prostitution zone. G.J. De Jongh, head of the Rotterdam Public Works Department in the period around 1900, must have regularly turned over in his grave.
But since the early 2020s, this neighbourhood is known as Little C, a remarkably dense part of the city with cozy squares, streets and alleys. With little towers connected by steel walkways. The green facades of the artist impressions also seem more than an empty promise. In some places, the vegetation is already climbing storeys high along steel wires against the brick facades.
The neighbourhood was designed by CULD, a partnership between Juurlink and Geluk and another valued former colleague of mine, Jaakko van ‘t Spijker. The architecture of Little C was inspired by warehouses, both in New York and Rotterdam. That can quickly become kitschy, but I think it’s very successful here. An additional advantage is that it immediately looks as if those quasi-warehouses have been there for a hundred years, which enhances the illusion of an old postcard.
At the same time as Little C, the area between the road and Coolhaven was also developed into Tuschinski Park. In the dry and hot summer of 2022, this quickly developed into a popular place. On beautiful summer evenings a crowd gathered here, making it almost look like a festival.
The park is named after Abraham Tuschinski. He was a Polish emigrant who,on his way to America, decided to stay in Rotterdam. He became a successful cinema operator. His cinema in Amsterdam is perhaps the best known. But that is also because his Rotterdam halls did not survive the bombing of 14 May 1940. Tuschinski himself was murdered in Auschwitz in 1942.
In short, in this place many stories come together, both beautiful and tragic. A justified addition to the collection of old postcards from Rotterdam in the twenties.
Cool Tower and Beer Harbour
The Cooltoren, completed in 2022 and located on a street named Baan, is sometimes referred to as the Cool Tower. A fitting name because the architecture of the tower is quite cool. V8 Architects has designed a fairly transparent stack of floors with a lot of glass in the facade. The balconies and their balustrades with varying heights give it an almost musical rhythm. And let’s not forget the crown; it’s always nice when something interesting happens at the top of a tower.
But it should be mentioned that the building is not named after the word cool but after the neighbourhood it’s in: Cool. Just like Coolsingel boulevard and Coolhaven harbour.
The tower rises behind the houses from the reconstruction era on Schiedamsedijk, dating from the 1950s. On the left we can just see the somewhat dull housing from the eighties on Jufferkade.
The sailing ships in the Bierhaven (Beer Harbour) in the foreground provide the much-needed historical touch. But the Bierhaven is also of a fairly recent date, because this addition to Leuvehaven was not created until after the Second World War. Also note the grain suction elevator, on the far right, of the Maritime Museum. Another piece of history that nicely blends with the atmosphere of the vintage postcard.
A few more high residential towers are planned to the right of the Cooltoren. Once they are there, an extra layer of historical confusion is added. A reminder of the short period that the Cool Tower was the only tower to rise from the Baankwartier.
Rotterdam’s central city boulevard, Coolsingel, has long been on my to-do list for these vintage postcards. In fact, it’s been there since the refurbishment, which started in 2018 and which transformed the four-lane highway into a nice urban space with more room for cyclists and pedestrians.
But although that operation was officially completed in 2021, the pavement did not resemble the artist impressions at all. The reason: covid-19. The natural stone for the paving had to be imported from India and the pandemic seriously disrupted those deliveries. So those dull concrete paving stones were still there for a long time on the pedestrian promenade on the west side of Coolsingel.
But by now, the natural stone has been laid almost everywhere, in graceful patterns. And so it was time for a postcard. But making a suitable base photo for editing was not easy. After all, Coolsingel is one of the busiest places in the city. In front of the town hall, almost always white vans and other vehicles are parked. The huge green, white and orange cloths that were hung on the occasion of King’s Day also were disturbing. And I’m not even talking about the haphazardly parked shared scooters.
The time of day was also quite important: at about half past two in the afternoon the facade of the town hall is well lit and the plane trees provide a beautiful pattern on the aforementioned natural stone pavement. Though for those effects, of course, the sun must shine and those plane trees must not have too much leaf. In short, it’s actually a small miracle that I was able to get a good basic photo in the end.
The yellowing that characterizes old postcards comes out very well this time. That yellowish tint comes quite close to the sandstone of the town hall. And since the refurbishment, the color of the cycle path and pavement also fits in with that yellow-brown theme.
The quasi-art deco lamppost, in the middle, seems to have been there for a hundred years, but is also part of the refurbishment. And the plane trees, old and jagged as they seem, are actually a fairly recent addition. In real old photos, the Coolsingel is remarkably treeless.
The following projects are on my to-do list:
- Residential towers The Muse, Casanova and OurDomain at the Wijnhaven
- Post Rotterdam
In the meantime, here is once again the earlier series of vintage postcards: