Meditation & Health #24 Contents

Rotterdam: A City of Courage

By Wang Da & Narom Chea

The Rotterdam experience starts with stepping out of Centraal Station. Skyscrapers and sleek towers rise up on every side of you. This port city, the largest port in Europe, has a history that extends back to the year 1270, when a dam was constructed on the Rotte River.


Rebuilding the City

The most significant growth in population and port activity began in the 1870s with the completion of Nieuwe Waterweg (New Waterway) ship canal. In 1898 a 45-meter-tall office building, called Witte Huis (White House), was completed; at that time it was the tallest office building in Europe. It was evidence of Rotterdam’s growth, dynamism and success. The early decades of the 20th century gave rise to influential modern architecture, including the Van Nelle Factory in 1929, a brilliant example of modern factory design that was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014.

Rotterdam’s steadfast dedication to leading-edge architecture would prove crucial to reconstructing the city into a vibrant center of culture and progressive ideas after World War Two.

Rotterdam was invaded in wartime and the city center was razed. Determined to rebuild, the people of Rotterdam brought ambitious construction to the heart of their city. From the ruins arose architecture renowned for its beauty and innovation. The modern structures also represent the courage to rebuild after massive setbacks.

The Station With Character

Rotterdam Centraal Station is a landmark building that was reopened in 2014. Nearly 110,000 passengers move through the station on a daily basis. It is considered one of the most iconic landmarks in the city.

The roof over the tracks is partially covered in solar panels and flows seamlessly into the angled roof over the station hall. Its point reaches toward the city center. Multiple historic elements from the previous station (1957), designed by Sybold van Ravesteyn, are still intact, including the clock on the front facade and the letters that spell out “Centraal Station,” now in energy-efficient LEDs.

There is clear segregation of the crowd from vehicles at the entrance, with designated escalators for bicycles as well as the thoughtful provision of almost 5,000 bicycle parking spots.

Many people have commented that this distinguished building, when viewed from a certain angle, looks like the mouth of a shark. Thus it has earned the nickname Haaienbek or Shark’s Mouth. Although it is of unconventional shape, its unique character blends well into the surrounding urban environment. The hall, with its high interior space, is simple and welcoming. The use of wood creates a warm and rustic atmosphere.

A Galaxy of Gourmet

Markthal, which means Market Hall, is a kaleidoscope of fresh and prepared foods. A popular gathering place, Markthal is an impressive arch building that consists of the largest artwork in the Netherlands — Hoorn des Overvloeds (Horn of Plenty), by Arno Coenen. At 11 square meters in size, this striking piece depicts gigantic fruits, vegetables, flowers, seeds, fish, and insects.

Looking up at the towering arch and the brightly colored work of art, which looks particularly captivating when lights shine on it, one feels as though one has landed in a galaxy of gourmet food. Evoking a sense of wonderment, this majestic piece of artwork is a statement of adoration for Nature, an ode to the abundance of the Universe, and a powerful force of attraction.

The building also contains several hundred residential apartments along with the restaurants, shops and supermarkets. An open corridor runs through the building. Huge transparent glass facades cover both ends of the corridor to prevent rain and cold from entering while maintaining an open character.

Living at 45 Degrees

Inspired by the city’s waterside setting, Rotterdam’s architects have created unique structures of simplicity and beauty. Bringing unconventional design to the fore are the famous cube houses. A total of 38 cube houses were constructed in the center of Rotterdam by Dutch architect Piet Blom in 1984. His work was based on the idea of turning conventional cube-shaped houses at a 45-degree angle and resting them on hexagonal pylons. Each block of house symbolizes a tree and the tree trunks are formed by pylons. Together, they represent an abstract forest.

If you are curious about what the cube houses look like on the inside, you can visit Kijkkubus, meaning Show Cube, which is open to visitors and contains displays about the design and history of the buildings.

The floors in the rooms are level. The walls and windows are inclined at an angle of 54.7 degrees. There are three levels inside the houses. The first floor is the living room and a kitchen area; the second floor has two bedrooms and a bathroom; and the third floor is the attic. Because of the angled walls, many pieces of furniture must be specially designed to fit into the odd spaces. The cube houses challenge traditional notions of living spaces and celebrate creativity. Their place in the center of the city suggests that progressive ideas are central to life in Rotterdam.

Whimsical & Practical

The famous Het Potlood, otherwise known as the Pencil Tower, is a hexagon-shaped tower resembling a pencil. The tower’s roof is the pencil nib and gives the impression that it is always coloring the sky with different shades of bright and dark colors. The Pencil Tower is a tribute to creativity, and adds yet more whimsical charm to a beautiful city.

Centrale Bibliotheek Rotterdam is another eye-catching yet controversial building in the city, controversial because of the angular yellow tubes on the exterior. Most visitors think it is a factory, but in fact it is the Rotterdam Central Library. Having the water pipes installed on the outside of the building is a more practical and convenient design in terms of carrying out maintenance and repair works. It is easy to reach any leaking pipes, without the need to hack the walls or dig the ground. It is indeed an amazing structure not confined by traditions and conventions.

Rotterdam Rising

Rotterdam is home to some of the tallest structures in Europe, including the Erasmusbrug, a cable-stayed bridge that links north and south. The 790-meter bridge is held aloft by a 138-meter-tall curved pylon which earns it the nickname De Zwaan (The Swan). As of 2018, more than 30 new high-rise projects are being developed.

The city has a well-deserved reputation for being a hub of architectural development and education through the Berlage Institute, a postgraduate laboratory of architecture, and the Netherlands Architecture Institute. The latter is open to the public and offers a plethora of superb exhibitions on architecture and matters related to urban planning.

Rotterdam is a lively, progressive and culturally rich city. The local people’s positive attitude to post-war reconstruction is attested to by the bold designs of the city’s architecture. A city with courage and curiosity, Rotterdam keeps reinventing and rediscovering itself time after time. This robust Dutch city reminds us that with ingenuity and the bravery to start over, life can begin again, better than ever.


Meditation & Health #24 Contents