Rotterdam's downtown revival
A rendering of Markthal, an apartment and market complex destined to become Rotterdam's foodie haven. (Markthal)
For decades, the city of Rotterdam – the Netherlands’ second largest after its capital Amsterdam – has had a reputation for being a hotbed of avant–garde architecture.
After much of the city was destroyed during World War II, the remains of crumbled historical buildings were replaced with edgy, modern towers, and the city began to attract such iconic projects such as Piet Blom’s tilted harbourfront cube houses, Ben van Berkel's Erasmus Bridge, and the Paperclip, a housing development designed by Carel Weeber (the same architect behind Rotterdam’s bright orange De Schie prison).
These days, Rotterdam is facing another challenge that the city hopes innovative architecture will be able to remedy. At the end of the workday and on the weekends, the city’s central neighbourhoods become desolate and barren, because very few people now live there. “When rebuilding the city [after most of it was bombed], the idea was to make it really business-heavy, combined with shopping [and] all connected by large boulevards,” said Arjen Knoester, a representative from the city’s Urban Planning office. “Dwellings were situated separately.” In fact, of the city’s more than 600,000 residents, only 5% live in the city centre, compared to the global average of 10%.
In 2011, Rotterdam instituted the Making City plan – a citywide program that aims to beef up the city centre’s population through exciting new building projects, with the goal that by 2040, 60,000 people will call the area home. For travellers, the initiative will add to, and in some cases reshape, the already notable architectural landscape of the city; and some of the projects are perfect for sightseeing while others have practical uses like new hotels and restaurants.
The redevelopment of Rotterdam’s Centraal Station began in 2004 to accommodate growing traffic, but the progress being made here is be a key component of the city’s ambitions. In daily foot traffic, Central Station receives as many people as Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport – 110,000 – and in 2025, that number is expected to triple. To make the area more commuter-friendly and to improve the look of its surroundings, Centraal Station is undergoing extensive renovations that go beyond a fancy new exterior. By the scheduled completion date of 2014, the station will have a subterranean bike depot big enough to hold more than 5,000 bikes, and the surrounding area will be turned into a picturesque, greenery-filled plaza. This expansion will also bring new businesses into and around the station, including a kiosk by Dudok, a cafe that serves some of the most popular cakes in Rotterdam and is particularly loved for its apple pie.
Another high profile public space project is the Luchtsingel – an above ground pedestrian bridge modelled on New York City’s beloved High Line. This partly crowd-funded enterprise seeks to connect Centraal Station to the neighbourhood of Rotterdam North , where an old train – theHofbogen – used to run. Starting at just east of Centraal Station at Schiestraat, the Luchtsingel is still in the early stages of the build, having just completed its first phase above one of Rotterdam’s major thoroughfares, Schiekade.
Much like the High Line, plans to clean up the desolate areas around the walkable bridge will make it ideal for leisurely walks and for discovering less trodden parts of Rotterdam. And just as the High Line snakes over busy shops, restaurants and bars, several sought-after hotspots have already started popping up under the archways of the Luchtsingel. On such place is the Hofbogen (now called the Mini Mall by locals), which is home to cafes, vintage shops, bars and a restaurant by one of the country’s leading young chefs, 24-year-old Jim de Jong. The months-old eatery, called De Jong, is gaining a lot of buzz for its flower, herb and vegetable-based menu, offering dishes such as cold smoked salmon covered in tulip leaves and homemade pancetta served over local flowers.