When people talk about Rotterdam, most people visualize the recently developed buildings. The city center of Rotterdam was bombarded during World War II, due to that it became a forerunner in post-war industrial and housing architecture. With the harbor activities now retreating from city center, new buildings are built. Many of them have a certain architectural statement or uniqueness. Even in the city center itself, new development projects are still executed. Most recently ‘Het Timmerhuis’ was opened, another design of the famous OMA architects.
Follow the beaten-path, and you will encounter many beautiful post-war buildings. Go off the beaten path and you will find some interesting less known beauties. Because what most people don’t know, is that architectural innovations already happened before World War II in Rotterdam. They were mostly focused on providing suitable housing for the many poor laborers in the city.
In the 1900’s, Rotterdam faced an enormous increase of inhabitants. Mostly farmers, from Brabant and Zeeland, came to the city as they fled the famine in their own rural region. They were hoping to find work in the harbors. As you can imagine, the living circumstances were horrible and the government had no intention to do anything about it.
Some noble men in the city stood up, and decided that they wanted to do something about the horrible housing condition. In 1913 they took the initiative for Tuindorp Vreewijk. The development of this neighborhood was all done by architects, and based on the idea that the neighborhood had to become self-sustainable. Lots of green spaces, but also schools and businesses were embedded in the development of this neighborhood. Berlage even developed the street plan for one part of the village. After World War I, due to rising building costs, the government had to step in (there was money due to a general lack of housing in the Netherlands) and a special housing company was created for the neighborhood.
The concept of garden neighborhoods has been used for many more years in Rotterdam. Most neighborhoods in Rotterdam have their own shopping centers, a lot of green spaces and an inward look. You really go from one neighborhood to another. And they all have their own identity. Try visiting Lage Land and Pendrecht in one day, and you will know what I mean.
The first houses in Vreewijk were ready in 1919, the last one during WWII. Although there have been some renovations and rebuilding; the old structure and vision is still visible. The inhabitants of Vreewijk have always fought for the preservation of the original plan and ideas of their neighborhood. They had to stand strong against politicians and housing companies who wanted to demolish several parts. They succeeded, and even though some houses were demolished, the new houses were built with respect to the original lay-out and ideas of the neighborhood. Old and new go well together now.
If you want to visit the neighborhood, than you can take a map with you that highlights the most important events and people who have lived in Vreewijk. Unfortunately the text is only available in Dutch. There is also a GPS-route that you can take. Here is the link to that website.
But best of all, I would advise you to visit the little museum in Vreewijk. This house museum is still in its original state, thanks to the last occupant who had not changed a thing since 1928. There is no shower, and no hot water facilities. The house is now a museum that you can visit on Wednesday and every second Saturday of the month. Check the website for the most recent details.
Another house museum can be found in the Kiefhoek. This neighborhood was also developed to house less privileged people, but the set-up is completely different.
Kiefhoek is a neighborhood also situated on the south bank of the city. This neighborhood was built between 1928 and 1930 based on the design of Mr. J.J.P Oud. Mr. Oud had the goal to build a house that would educate people. He had ambitious plans, but due to lack of funding some of his ideas were not executed. Still there are many small details to find in the house that are intriguing. I shall not forget the fact that the window frames are not square, but have an angle. That way, more sunlight is able to come into the house. Every space in the house has a purpose, and it is all designed in a beautiful way. You can still visit one of the original houses, that has been turned into a museum. Unfortunately it is not possible to go there on your own, unless there is an architectural event. You have to take a tour with Urban Guides on a Saturday. You can find the details here.
Want to experience more of that typical architecture in Rotterdam that is off-beaten-path?
Other interesting neighborhoods
How about Heijplaat a neighborhood developed and built by the owner of the Rotterdam Droogdok Maatschappij to house his employees? The huge buildings of this companie are now occupied by a college and a university of applied science. Another hall has been designated to innovative entrepreneurs. Don’t hesitate to take a peak inside.
Or take a pleasant stroll through Kralingen-Oost, where some of the noble men still live. Here you find the architectural styles of the late 19th and early 20th century. Specifically between Hoflaan and Burgemeester Oudlaan, around the small pond, you will find some exquisite examples. After your walk in Kralingen-Oost, you can visit the Kralingse Bos for a nice walk in the forest or the Aboretum Trompenburg originating from 1825.
But the best time to visit Rotterdam for some off-beaten-path architecture is during a festival.
Day of the Architecture
Every year the Netherlands has an architectural weekend, when several buildings open their doors to the public that are otherwise closed. Rotterdam is one of the participants, and for 2017 the weekend is planned for 16 to 18 June. When I wrote this blog, the website for this year’s event in Rotterdam was not ready yet. Hopefully, by the time you read this blog, it will be.
Looking for specific building or timeperiod?
On the website of Architecture Guide, you can find all the architectural buildings of Rotterdam. Did you know that the oldest building in Rotterdam is of 1525? The Laurenskerk (church) is still standing strong in city center. Although it barely survived the bombing during WWII. Throughout the city you can find other distinctive architecture from before the 20th century, and of course many buildings from the 20th and 21st century.
Rotterdam really has a lot to offer……