How Rotterdam went from rubble to world-class architecture treasure

The second largest city in the Netherlands is establishing itself as the nation’s innovation capital. Landmark buildings and experimental constructions are being added to Rotterdam’s skyline and are putting it on the map as a world-class destination for architectural innovation.

Lonely Planet confirmed this new status, ranking Rotterdam among the top 5 cities to visit in 2016. The city is described as "a veritable open-air gallery of modern, postmodern and contemporary construction," and as "the city of the future."

During the Second World War, most of the city center was reduced to rubble. Over 26,000 homes and more than 6,000 other buildings were destroyed. Compared to cities like Amsterdam and The Hague, there is very little old architecture to preserve in Rotterdam.

In a way, this has helped Rotterdam’s architectural experiments and growth. Countless buildings were added since then, including the iconic Erasmus Bridge, The White House, Rotterdam Central library and many others. Characteristic post-war architecture from the 1960s, ’70s and ‘80s combined with hypermodern buildings and skyscrapers from recent years constitute the city’s current skyline.

Rotterdam skyline. Credit: Rotterdam.info

Rotterdam skyline. Credit: Rotterdam.info

The completion of the Markthal and the renovation of Central Station, both done in 2014, have gotten international attention, putting Rotterdam in the spotlight.

The inside of the Markthal. Credit: Nieuws.top010.nl

The inside of the Markthal. Credit: Nieuws.top010.nl

The so-called Markthal, designed by architectural firm MVRDV, is an arc shaped building with 228 apartments. What makes this oddly shaped apartment building so unique is the huge market below the arc. Residents of this remarkable building can look out from their windows to see the daily activity of the market below.

Rotterdam Central Station. Parking for 750 cars and 5200 bicycles is hidden underneath the esplanade. Solar panels partly covering the roof have a high level of transparency to maximize the amount of light entering the station. Credit: Dezeen.com

Rotterdam Central Station. Parking for 750 cars and 5200 bicycles is hidden underneath the esplanade. Solar panels partly covering the roof have a high level of transparency to maximize the amount of light entering the station. Credit: Dezeen.com

In 2002, the city’s former shipyard was transformed into a campus of innovation, now known as RDM Rotterdam. New building technologies, experimental architecture, robotic construction and wind power are being researched there.

It has become an innovation platform accommodating large companies as well as startups and students from the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences. It is a place for professionals to come together and combine resources and knowledge to find solutions for construction, mobility and energy.

So what can we expect from the city in the next few years?

In March 2016, Rotterdam will get its first “dobbing forest”. The idea is inspired by artist Jorge Bakker, who filled an aquarium with bobbers that grow small trees. Dutch designers and entrepreneurs from Mothership decided to turn this idea into reality. The first experiments took place last year and in a few weeks a forest of twenty trees will be ‘planted’ in a harbor basin downtown. The trees will bob on floats made of recycled materials.

Daan Roosegaarde led another green initiative: the world’s first smog-vacuuming tower. The tower is seven meters high and is located in a small park in the city. It cleans 30,000 cubic meters of air per hour and runs on wind energy. In order to function properly it needs about as much electricity as the average water heater.

Another architectural highlight will be placed in the museum park. MVRDV, the same company that designed the Markthal, is designing a bowl-shaped building wrapped in mirrored glass. The building functions as an art depot, and will look quite similar to the iconic ‘bean’ in Chicago’s Millennium Park. The 14,000 square meter depot is planning to open its doors in 2018.

MVRDV is designing in Rotterdam a bowl-shaped building wrapped in mirrored glass. It functions as an art depot. Credit: Mvrdv.nl

MVRDV is designing in Rotterdam a bowl-shaped building wrapped in mirrored glass. It functions as an art depot. Credit: Mvrdv.nl

If you’re planning a trip to the Netherlands, you might want to reconsider spending all of your time in Amsterdam!