The modern monuments of Rotterdam also deserve protection

‘Don’t you like it? Then maybe you should take a closer look.” Architectural historian Wijnand Galema points to a building that is less than fifty years old, but will no longer be there next year. It has a striking design by a famous Rotterdam architect, but that knowledge does not save the building from demolition. Blakeburg on Blaak will make way for a new residential tower that will be called The One.

Galema has considered the fate of Rotterdam architecture, which is considered to belong to the Post ’65 generation. Buildings that were built after the reconstruction (1945-1965) and are therefore often too young to be recognized as monuments, let alone recognized. This makes them outlaws for project developers, for whom demolition and new construction usually bring the most. Just as the much talked about Pompenburgflat (1981) is now happening in addition to De Blakeburg. Together with her colleague Amanda Terpstra, Galema draws attention to “this often unloved and unprotected heritage”.

Unloved, this certainly applies to Blakeburg, a concrete colossus from 1977 by architect Jan Hoogstad. Concrete does not have a warm appearance, rather it is a cold and gloomy material. “Concrete gives buildings something unapproachable, most people don’t like that,” says Galema.

Do you still look better than that? “You have to make an effort to love it. There is a lot of relief in the facade. To me it is a kind of sculpture. Blakeburg has so much character that beautiful or ugly is irrelevant.”

There are several buildings like Blakeburg in Rotterdam, in the same age category. The Shell tower on Hofplein from 1976. The Europoint towers on Marconiplein from the period 1971-1975 (now Lee Towers). Coolse Poort on the corner of Coolsingel-Westblaak from 1979; this ‘red kroot’ was also threatened with demolition, but is now part of a larger transformation of this area ‘while preserving the architecture’, the developers and the municipality promise.

Layered city seen from the Pompenburg apartment
Photo Walter Autumn

The beginning of Rotterdam high-rise city

“The significance of these buildings is that they are at the beginning of Rotterdam as a high-rise city,” says Galema. “With the Shell tower, things took off for the first time. Here the foundation was laid for what was later expanded and was called ‘Manhattan on the Maas’.”

Also read: Rotterdam celebrates the height of the city

Yet this burgeoning high-rise is only one side of the Post ’65 period. In the same years, there was also a desire for more security and comfort. The people of Rotterdam found their city cold and boring. In the evening you could fire a cannon at Coolsingel without hitting anyone, it was said.

More housing should be built in the center, not in large complexes or tall towers, but on a small scale, on a human scale. In the late 1970s, for example, the sloping houses appeared on Haagse Veer and on the other side of the railway heliport, or the ‘gnome village’. That nickname already indicates that these projects were not uncontested. Village and cosy, the critics said, not in keeping with the metropolitan character that Rotterdam was certainly supposed to aspire to in the center of the city.

Neighborhoods were also created on the outskirts of the city and surrounding municipalities according to the principle of small scale. Galema: “Omuroord was the last modernist neighborhood with large apartments in space along long straight roads. You can see the reaction in Beverwaard, Hoogvliet, Oosterflank, Zevenkamp: low-rise buildings in residential areas with crooked streets and in courtyards with lots of greenery. You see that kind of neighborhoods from the 70s and 80s all over the Netherlands.”

These urban renewals also deserve protection if necessary, Galema believes, as do the results of the urban renewal that started in Rotterdam at the same time. It is not about preserving everything, but about the most special objects or complexes. “Legacy is a struggle,” he says. “There is always a rush to build, now with the housing shortage everywhere. To make room for this, it sometimes has to be torn down. If a building is designated as a monument, it is protected by law. If not, it depends on arbitrariness, on goodwill or on a political decision. You have to be at the forefront of that.”

Until now, Rotterdam has paid little attention to the Post ’65 legacy. They are already more advanced in other major cities, and the theme is also receiving attention nationally, especially from the Cultural Heritage Agency in the Netherlands, which a few years ago conducted a survey of the stock of real estate built between 1965 and 1990. Galema wonders, if Rotterdam is not a little late, perhaps already too late: see Blakeburg, see Pompenburg.

Coolse Poort may be spared by the redevelopment of the area.
Photo Walter Autumn

Inventory

Rotterdam is actually still in its infancy, confirms Astrid Karbaat from the Monuments & Cultural History Bureau in the municipality of Rotterdam. Post ’65 was mentioned for the first time as a theme in the Heritage Agenda 2023-2027. This policy document will be presented to the City Council by the Council in the near future.

Meanwhile, her office has already started an inventory of eligible buildings and objects. It is a public process that can be followed at wakelet.com/@post65010. Rotterdammers themselves can make suggestions and submit objects, says Karbaat: “We want to include as much as possible in the picture. The inventory is followed by the valuation and ultimately a selection of the objects that we want to preserve and protect.”


Zalmhaventoren is nothing more than a monotonous beam

So far, the inventory has primarily yielded buildings, but also objects such as the subway viaduct in Zuid and the car tunnel under Churchillplein. Westermeijer’s illuminated advertisement about the White House and the artwork ‘Everything of value is defenseless’ at the art academy is also on it. “There is a lot, and we don’t know in advance what we want to protect. We are working on that for a while. The starting point is that it is not only about icons, but also about buildings from the daily living environment. We want to include people’s perceptions in the assessment of the heritage,” Karbaat said last week at a meeting on Post ’65 organized by the Roterodamum Historical Society.

A number of buildings from the period are already protected, such as De Doelen and the cube houses. The latter complex, from 1984, is probably the youngest monument in the city. Rightfully so, says architectural historian Galema. “Many don’t like the cube houses either. But these kind of, I would almost say, Instagrammable buildings are unique and special. The image is very strong.”

The art is to look beyond today’s problems, says Galema. Architecture is also fashion, just like music and clothes. “Only buildings last much longer. Post ’65 is still young. The reconstruction was also not enthusiastic 25 years ago, but it has turned around nicely. Public opinion can change.”

In addition, there is the historical argument. A city consists of several periods, all of which mean something, says Galema. The more layered a city is, the richer and more diverse, he says. “You shouldn’t want to polish everything for the present. Then you lose the connection to the story.”

Galema himself also has a favorite Post ’65 building: De Zonnetrap on Molenvliet in Lombardy from 1979. As the name suggests: a residential complex with stairwell balconies where every house has an equally large terrace with the same amount of sun. The large containers for plants and bushes on the facade are striking. “You can see that in almost all designs now, because we have to go green. But then it was still unusual. For my part, De Zonnetrap can be on the monument list tomorrow.”

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