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Rotterdam – the Finest Showcase of Contemporary Architecture

Situated in western Holland, on the final stretch of the river Meuse, the modernity breathed by Rotterdam is stunning, far removed from the usual image we have of European cities. Don’t expect to find a typical historic city centre, with a jumbled network of backstreets and time-worn buildings storied with its historical past. The city layout and its tall buildings are more reminiscent of New York’s Manhattan than other Dutch cities like Amsterdam or Utrecht.

The Bombing Raids and Nazi Occupation

The reason for this peculiarity – so to speak – goes back to the Second World War. On 14 May 1940, in a desperate attempt to secure the surrender of Rotterdam, the German air force bombarded the city to such an extent that hardly any building was left standing in the city centre. The air raids destroyed over 24,000 homes and led to the loss of around 800 lives.

Rising from the Ashes

After the city was liberated from the Nazis, unlike other European cities that set about restoring their historic centres as best they could, Rotterdam elected to start from scratch. In this respect, they did not hesitate to adopt the latest building trends, as evinced in every corner of the city. Herein lies Rotterdam’s chief appeal – a host of contemporary architectural discourses coexisting in harmony.

The Standout Features

As Rotterdam has a lot of architecture worth viewing, and one does not always have enough time to see it all, here is a selection of the major landmarks in the city:

The Erasmus Bridge – or Erasmusbrug – which connects the north and south parts of the city, is the work of Ben Van Berkel. Inaugurated in 1996, this imposing structure over the river Meuse has become a well-known landmark.

Near one end of the bridge are two emblematic buildings which can’t fail to attract one’s attention. One is the KPN Telecom Building, designed by Renzo Piano, one facade of which leans slightly towards the city. It is studded with green lights that generate different figures or messages. Just behind it stands “De Rotterdam”, a huge complex consisting of three inter-connected towers. Designed by Rem Koolhaas, it was inaugurated in 2013.

Another icon of Rotterdam, although of a much smaller size, are the Cube Houses (Kubuswoning), designed by the architect, Piet Blom. The original structure of these houses is the result of tilting the cubes 45 degrees and setting them on hexagonal pillars. The set of houses, made up of 32 cubes, has an unusual forest-like appearance. For those curious to see what they look like inside, there is one open to visitors.

The Kuntshal cultural centre, designed by Rem Koolhaas, is well worth seeing, both for the building itself and the collections it houses. The ample, 3,300 m2, of available space enables five exhibitions to be hosted in parallel. While it lacks its own, or a permanent, exhibition, it does act as an expositor for the latest trends in contemporary art.

The Central Library exterior, with its huge pipes painted in bright colours, is reminiscent of the Pompidou Centre in Paris, which provided the Van den Broek studio with the necessary inspiration to design this building. Opened in 1983, it is Holland’s largest public library. A quaint detail is the giant chess board inside.

The dazzling red covering the spectacular structure of the New Luxor Theatre is the first thing that catches one’s eye when approaching it. Opened in 2001, it is the work of the Australian architect, Peter Wilson. There are guided visits of the theatre interior and, for those of you who visit on your own, don’t miss the views to be had on the roof terrace.

The outstanding feature of Rotterdam Central (Centraal Station) is the entrance ceiling – shaped like a boomerang, it is made of stainless steel and covered in red-cedar panelling. Three teams of architects were commissioned to undertake the recent extension and remodelling project, namely Benthem Crouwel Architects, MVSA Meyer en Van Schooten Architecten and West 8.

Don’t miss out on one of Europe’s finest showcases of contemporary architecture – treat yourself to a Vueling, here.


Text by ISABELYLUIS Comunicación

Photos by bertknot, Franklin Heijnen, Luke Price, Tim van Vliet, Rory Hyde

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