Rotterdam mass attraction between the towers: ‘We go higher and higher and higher’

It is a part of the city that suddenly opens its doors, becomes visible. The first of 444 orange steps on the ‘Rotterdam Rooftop Walk’ leads past the playground to a former childcare center on the roof of the World Trade Center. The slide, sandpit and other play equipment stand still in the bright spring sun. Unused part of the city center in solitary height.

The playground gets some attention, without information signs like elsewhere on the route. If you had not passed it, via the 600-meter-long course of Rotterdam’s latest crowd-puller, you probably would never have known it existed – or your child may have happened to be in day care.

The 21,000 round windows in the low-rise building of the WTC building can also not be ignored. “Insane,” Léon van Geest says enthusiastically as he leans over the railing and looks down. He is the leader of the annual Rotterdamse Dakendagen festival and in that role the initiator of the Rooftop Walk. “You are not going to do that now, well, 21,000 windows in copper,” he says with a wink to a group of visitors from area and property developer AM, builder of De Zalmhaven, a 215-meter-high residential tower. just down the road.

Van Geest opens the gates for the rooftop walk on Monday morning – the first visitors will be there just before 10am. The organization has just completed the first weekend, with around 7,500 visitors a day, the maximum capacity. Ascension Day, they opened for a month, until June 24. A period must be booked, a ticket costs 3.50 euros. The organization hopes for 100,000 to 200,000 visitors. In fact, it should have already taken place around the singing competition in 2020 due to the pandemic that moved.

ONE roof village with food forest on the parking deck (right) and paintings by artist Leon Keer on the roofs of shops on the Lijnbaan.
Photo by Walter Autumn

Art, mini forest and solar panels

“We go higher and higher and higher” says a girl cheerfully after about a hundred meters. The walk goes from Beursplein, past the WTC building, via a 29.5 meter high footbridge over Coolsingel, then over the roof and parking deck at Bijenkorf, after which you go down a steep staircase to end at Aert van Nesstraat. . Along the way: roof news, art, a mini forest, a rooftop village and (of course) solar panels. Goal: to experience the possibilities of the ‘roof landscape’.

The audience is diverse – young and old, from Instagram generation to ‘green movement’. This type of mass attraction for the theme of roofing is not new in Rotterdam. In 2016, a huge staircase on Stationsplein to the roof of the Groothandelsgebouw attracted great interest. It was the idea of ​​Winy Maas from MVRDV, the architectural firm that is also involved in this design. “The stairs should give more life to the roof and show another layer in the next step in the urban development of Rotterdam,” Maas said at the time. In a lecture, he spoke of “the second reconstruction of Rotterdam”, a sequel to the reconstruction after the 1940 bombing.

Rotterdamse Dakendagen, the festival held this weekend, also calls itself “an architecture festival in sheep’s clothing”, says Van Geest during the walk. “We lure people in: get up on the roof, what a nice footbridge. At the same time, you get the content that you can use for. ” In a low-threshold way, he emphasizes.

With Rooftop Walk, a conscious choice has been made for a crowd puller, to reach new target groups. “We can now reach out to people who have never heard of the green roof wave,” Van Geest says. “It’s interesting with such a popular, populist thing. We can include these visitors in our thinking about urban design.”

The 60 meter long footbridge with WTC building
Photo by Walter Autumn

Here on the rooftops in the heart of the city, between all the towers, the skyline becomes tangible. Face to face with the top offices and hotel rooms. With a wide view of the city life below – traffic jam on Coolsingel, the whining of the trams, shoppers looking for a terrace (Friday afternoon).

No one has the feeling that they are doing something special on the roof, says Van Geest at the top of Bijenkorf. “There is such a great peace. Everyone walks a little. It feels like a cross between a forest and a museum.”

The footbridge over Coolsingel falters a bit when he says that the construction was not very complicated for the scaffolding builder. “These types of systems are used when the Rhine is to be crossed, as a temporary pedestrian bridge when the bridge is under maintenance, for example.” The 60 meter long bridge can withstand up to wind strength 11, and a maximum of 300 people can stand on it at the same time.

More difficult was the fact that both Bijenkorf and the WTC building – which connects the bridge – have the status of a national monument. As a result, the bridge was not allowed to be attached to the buildings and therefore could not support the construction. “There was no screw in it,” Van Geest says. All stability must come from the two towers. They stand with two legs at fifteen times five meters in the middle of the Coolsingelen. Getting permission for it required a lot of preparatory work.

‘Roof movement’ is on the map

At the same time, Van Geest noted that the city (municipality) quickly became enthusiastic about this plan and wanted it very much. That is the advantage of Rotterdam’s roof policy (program for multifunctional roofs) and Rotterdamse Dakendagen, which has been held since 2015, are the ‘roof movement’ on the map.

When the festival was first launched, there was little that could be done, he recalls. He was told by the fire service and the municipal building and housing inspectorate: ‘You must not have this. Roofs are not for humans’. Van Geest: “And now, when I visit them every year in January for the new edition, they say: so Léon, what crazy plans do you have now? In this way, we hope to gradually change that mindset. ”

For example, the Rooftop Walk should represent a broader development. Rotterdam has too much flat roofs, partly as a result of the bombing and reconstruction, says Van Geest. According to the municipality, these are 18.5 square kilometers of flat roofs. Van Geest: “And we are not using that space now, in a time of climate crisis, energy crisis and housing crisis. We lack space, especially in cities. And that space is there.”

Visitors look from a height on the parking deck from Bijenkorf beyond the city.
Photo by Walter Autumn

Despite the great potential, the reality is that development is not going very fast in Rotterdam. According to figures from 2018, there are 360,000 square meters of green on the roofs and 168,000 square meters of solar panels in the city, according to Van Geest. “But there is still a world to be won while we are frontrunners.”

If he now wants to go on a rooftop with someone to get a drink, he can go to Dakakker, a rooftop farm on top of Schieblocket, and to Dakparken in the West. There is not much else to do, he says.

However, there is a preliminary design for the development of the Hofbogen in Noord into a 1.9 kilometer long public roof park – that plan should be completed in the coming months. And this week, the construction of a “green roof of biodiversity with water storage” at Doelen was completed – but it is not open to the public, let alone for a cup of coffee.

It is also difficult to achieve, says Van Geest. “Every public space needs maintenance, whether it involves supervision or keeping the green up to date.” Suppose Bijenkorf makes the roof public, he says. “Who is it then? How do you want to classify it? Then you get into a kind of semi-public space. Where do you as a municipality want to be in that game? We need that conversation.”

Didden Village

There is so much more that can be done, says Joep Klabbers, architect and co-founder of Dakendagen, in which he is no longer involved. “The flat roofs are our capital, our gold,” he says. “But it is not used.” 59,000 homes can be built on flat roofs in Rotterdam, the survey showed in October Superrrrdam! – Penthouse for the people which he made together with sociologist Yvonne Rijpers.

The calculation is based on the assumption that these buildings can withstand a weight gain of 10 percent. But the 59,000 is a “very conservative estimate,” Klabbers says. “Probably more.” They received help from the specialized Rotterdam agency Superworld for the data analysis.

He calls their research an “activist pamphlet”. Klabbers: “What we want to use here to demonstrate is that many buildings are suitable for further construction. With one, two or three layers. If you turn it into comfortable, affordable housing, they are penthouse apartments for the people. Then you create homes in the most beautiful place in the city, which is most needed. ”

the last part from the attic, the steep staircase to the Aert van Nesstraat.
Photo by Walter Autumn

How? Klabbers sums it up: think of the private homeowner who is expanding on the roof – like Didden Village in the West with three bright blue houses. Or the VvE, which adds an extra floor with apartments to a complex and thus can finance an expensive renovation of the building. Or the housing association that owns the home filling up and thus more affordable housing.

Why does this almost never happen? It’s complex, says Klabbers. “Not much has been done yet, there is a little knowledge, it is much easier to build a meadow. It is difficult to build an inner city. “Although he speaks at parties, everyone” still finds it very exciting. “At the same time, he sees that nowadays no project is carried out without a function on the roof.

Van Geest walks on the roof of Bijenkorf along a landing platform – a ‘vertiport’ – where a drone with a package from the department store stands. Package delivery by plane is “the mobility of the future”, it reads. A little further on, you walk on the parking deck through a rooftop village with food forest. Van Geest: “This is usually always empty, is not it, someone only parks here at Christmas”.

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