You are on page 1of 6

NovaTerra / jaargang 4 / nummer 3 / oktober 2004 / 14

berichten over een thema omtrent

hoogbouw in relatie tot meervoudig

The ‘Rotterdam’ version of the history of high-rise in Rotterdam portrays a ‘first wave’ of high-rise
building in the mid 1980s and an emergent second wave of super high-rise. However, if we
take a careful look at the evidence on the ground we arrive at a rather different conclusion, and an
interesting starting point for rethinking the city’s guidance on tall buildings.

Dating Rotterdam’s high-rise

Lijnbaan, Lijnbaanflats and the tall buildings along the Weena.

Frank van der Hoeven, TU Delft, Faculty of Architecture / Illustrations: Frank van der Hoeven

Over the years ‘Rotterdam’ has carefully ‘Rotterdam’ as a whole uses modern and If we take a closer look at what happened in
cultivated an image as a ‘city of architecture’. modernist architecture to promote itself, the early years of Rotterdam’s ‘century of
But historic architecture is not Rotterdam’s tall buildings are an essential ingredient in high-rise’ and try to read this episode as a
strong point. Few buildings were left the profile of the city centre: the skyline prelude to the current high-rise
standing after the bombing and fire of has become a true icon of the city. developments, we run into difficulties.
May 1940, and most of those were modern Neither the height nor the location of the
buildings from the 1920s and 1930s. The city In the last twenty years the city has ‘tall’ buildings dating from this early period
had to rebuild its centre from scratch. produced two guidance notes on tall relate to the new municipal policy on high-
It seized the opportunity this presented to buildings. Its latest revision was rise. Although the first ‘high-rises’ were
experiment with architecture and urbanism, accompanied by the book Rotterdam High- relatively tall for their time, they fall far
which is why Rotterdam city centre now rise City, which, as is stated in the book, short of qualifying as ‘tall’ by current
contains numerous monuments or icons devotes considerable attention to the new standards. Take, for instance, the HBU
from the modern or modernist period, municipal policy on high-rise buildings, building (1939), whose modest 40 metres is
sometimes referred to as ‘reconstruction especially their historical context. This dwarfed by numerous buildings almost
architecture’. semi-official history portrays a hundred- twice this height. Even the GEB tower (1931,
year prelude from the late nineteenth 64 metres) is too small to qualify under the
Discussions about the appropriateness of century (with the completion of the Witte current policy on high-rise, which applies
high-rise buildings did surface from time Huis in 1898) to the so-called ‘first wave’ only to buildings of 70 metres or more.
to time, but never reached a climax as it did of high-rise building in the mid 1980s.
in cities with a historic centre. Tall buildings This suggests that we are now on the verge We face similar difficulties when we look at
are now generally accepted and most are of a second wave, which will feature super the location of these buildings. In the four
concentrated in the city centre. While high-rise buildings. decades between the construction of the
NovaTerra / jaargang 4 / nummer 3 / oktober 2004 / 15

Erasmus University, also known as ‘Hoboken’

(1969, 114 metres) and the Delftse Poort
(1991, 151 metres). The Coolsingeltoren
(2006, 187 metres) could be the next in line.
If the high-rise history of Rotterdam goes
in waves, these are the ones. Rotterdam’s
tall buildings are increasing in number and
height, each wave becoming stronger.

Current municipal guidance states that a

tall building is at least 70 metres high. This
makes 1969/1970 a true watershed. First,
Hoboken was completed (1969, 114 metres),
HBU on the Coolsingel. followed a year later by the Faculty of
Economics (1970, 78 metres). In the same
year the Euromast was extended with the
GEB tower and the completion of Hoboken the development of high-rise in a city. addition of the Space Tower (1970, 185
(1969; 114 metres) almost all tall buildings Such a scatterplot is a simple graph on metres). Tall buildings then sprung up in
were built to the west of the city centre or which the date of completion (horizontal various locations throughout the city, in
in the western part of the centre. It was axis) and the building height (vertical axis) height ranging from 50 to 100 metres. The
only in the 1970s that the current high-rise of each tall building is marked with a single barrier of 70 metres was broken, but although
area in the middle of the centre began to dot. The beauty of Rotterdam’s scatterplot there seemed no reason for turning back,
emerge. lies in the clear pattern that emerges. Every the construction of tall buildings came to
leap forward in the development of tall an abrupt end in the late 1970s. The city
a clear pattern buildings is announced by a frontrunner: for council had imposed a moratorium on the
Let us take a look at some data to get a every increase in scale there is one building construction of office buildings.
better understanding of what is happening. that sets the standard for the era to come, a
In ‘The Wonderful Hague Height’ (Nova few bold statements in the development of ‘Rotterdam’ is not eager to acknowledge
Terra 4(1) April 2004) we introduced the the skyline. These are the GEB tower (1931, the fact that the first generation of ‘true’
scatterplot as an instrument for visualising 64 metres), the Faculty of Medicine of the tall buildings appeared in the 1970s. When Y

Tall buildings built between 1930 and 1970. Scatterplot on the

Rotterdam skyline.
NovaTerra / jaargang 4 / nummer 3 / oktober 2004 / 16

people speak of a ‘first wave of tall In the mid 1970s large parts of Rotterdam’s economy slowed down in the early 1980s
buildings’ they usually mean a later period, city centre had been rebuilt along these and went into recession. The port, the pillar
starting in the mid 1980s. Looking back at lines, but had become inhospitable. In the of the Rotterdam economy for the last
this ‘first generation’, it is easy to see why: daytime the city was busy, but after office century, was increasingly shedding jobs. It
there is little a ‘city of architecture’ can be or shopping hours it was virtually a ghost was no longer possible to overlook the high
proud of. This first decade of ‘true’ tall town. employment potential of the city centre.
buildings did not produce many beautiful Politicians changed their views on barring
ones. Their architectural quality is mediocre Local politicians and the public demand a office development and the construction of
at best, exemplified by the PTT Telecom livelier centre offering a higher quality of office buildings picked up with the
building (1970, 51 metres), Europoint II and life. The general feeling was that this could completion of the WTC (1986, 93 metres),
III (1975, 92 metres) or the Hofpoort (1976, be accomplished by getting more people to the Maas (1988, 76 metres) and the
95 metres). Even their contribution to urban live in the city centre. The construction of Willemswerf (1988, 88 metres). Since 1990
life is doubtful, since they are monofunctional offices had to be checked to make way for construction of tall buildings in the central
building schemes without any public new housing projects, although a full-scale area has been in full swing: Weenatoren
functions at street level. conversion from high-rise offices to high- (1990, 106 metres), Weenacenter (1990; 103

Hofpoort at Hofplein. Basisplan, mono-functional zoning.

But whatever the quality produced in this rise living was not feasible. The large metres), Delftse Poort (1991, 93 and 151 metres)
period, it is in fact the first period to modernist housing estates in the suburbs and the Robeco Tower (1991; 95 metres).
produce a substantial number of buildings (built in the late 1960s and early 1970s) had
over 70 meters tall. And for the first time a put a negative spin on high-rise living and The number of tall buildings built since the
significant proportion of these tall it was far from popular at the time. As a end of the ‘freeze’ was higher than normal,
buildings appeared within the current high- result, the decision to freeze the construction mainly due to postponed demand. In our
rise zones. So, high-rise began properly in of offices in favour of housing brought the opinion this fact alone does not justify talk
the 1970s. The question is: why did this construction of tall buildings almost to a of a new era or ‘the first wave’. We have
development come to a temporary halt? complete standstill. Only two smaller already pointed out that the significance of
residential towers were completed in the the 1970s as an earlier wave is generally
building freeze years to 1985. Instead, the centre was overlooked. But perhaps more importantly,
One of the key elements of modernist littered with various low-rise housing there is little or no evidence of a significant
planning is dividing the city into different experiments. change taking place during the mid 1980s.
zones limited to a single or just a few urban When office building picked up the city did
functions. Within this framework, the city But all things come to an end, even a not stipulate any special conditions on
centre is the employment and retail centre. moratorium on new office blocks. After high-rise development. Neither do we see a
The outskirts and the suburbs are for living. years of rapid economic growth the shift in the location of new tall buildings.
NovaTerra / jaargang 4 / nummer 3 / oktober 2004 / 17

In a parallel development, the architectural

design of such buildings finally became
international. In the preceding 100 years
no foreign architect had designed a tall
building in Rotterdam, with the exception
of SOM with their three Europoint replicas
(1975/1978, 92 metres). Since the mid 1990s
foreign architects have played a major role
in tall building design in Rotterdam: Jahn’s
Fortis Bank (1996, 104 metres), Renzo
Piano’s Toren op Zuid (2000, 96 metres),
WZMH’s Millennium Tower (2000, 132
metres) and Sir Norman Foster’s World Port
Weena with Weenatoren, Weenacenter and Delftse Poort. Centre (2001, 124 metres); and the list is

When we look at the architecture, we find indications that we are dealing with a new
some (albeit anecdotal) evidence to trend. The periods before and after 1990/91
support the idea that this period is actually display many qualitative differences relating
characterised by continuity instead of to urban planning policies, architectural
discontinuity. The last office building before design, internationalisation and the actual
the moratorium, the Coolse Poort (1979, 78 use of tall buildings.
metres) was the work of Rob van Erk, who
also designed the first building after the In 1993 Rotterdam Municipal Council
moratorium was lifted, the World Trade launched its first tall buildings policy
Center (1986, 93 metres). Both buildings (hoogbouwbeleid) in a structured attempt
have the mirrored glass facades so typically to steer the development of tall buildings in
of the late 1970s and 1980s, and they stand the city. The architectural quality of tall
just a few hundred metres apart. buildings from the era between 1969 and

Millenium Tower at Kruisplein.

Finally, the differences in the use of tall

Coolse Poort at the Binnenwegplein. WTC at the Beurstraverse. buildings. Before 1990, most were office or
university buildings. The first (partial) shift
to residential use was in the Weenatoren
(1990, 106 metres) and the Weenacenter
defining the second wave 1991 is mediocre at best, and for almost (1990, 103 metres). The market was a little
Now we have put the start of the first two decades was dominated by the use of slow to adapt to this change, but the
wave of high-rise somewhere around 1970, mirrored glass facades. The Delftse Poort Schielandtoren (1996, 101 metres) and the
the wave starting in the 1990s must be the (1991) was the last design with such facades. Hoge Heren (2000, 102 metres) made the
second one. This second wave is not just The quality of architecture improved and breakthrough. Many proposals are now for
defined by building height only. There are designs became much more diverse. residential uses. Y
NovaTerra / jaargang 4 / nummer 3 / oktober 2004 / 18

guidance how to act. DEGW proposed keeping the flexibility, mixed-use, sustainability,
With these issues in mind, Rotterdam building heights along the river Nieuwe construction and place.
produced its first guidance on tall buildings Maas relatively low and developing two Rotterdam’s high-rise urban areas
in 1993 as an integral part of the strategic concentrations of super high-rise at the In 2001 the economy stagnated. The local
plan for the city centre. Formulating such a beginning and the end of the urban axis. real estate marketed dipped, especially for
policy document is a clear characteristic of The river would then form a ‘valley’. One office space, the wave of super high-rise
the second wave, and so it deserves a closer focal point already existed: the Rotterdam ideas cooled off and developments at
look. Central transit hub. The other had to be Parkstad never took off. The tallest
developed at ‘Parkstad’. The ‘valley’ concept buildings currently built or planned range
The 1993 guidance covers both urban design did not make it into the new guidance and from 120 to 160 metres and are located
and urban planning. The hoogbouwvisie as a consequence the Wilhelminapier along the Weena and Coolsingel in the city
allowed tall buildings only along the ‘urban remained a prime location for tall and very centre and at the Wilhelminapier in Kop van
axis’ formed by Coolsingel, Schiedamsedijk tall buildings; the option of developing Zuid. The construction of only one taller

Official high-rise zones. Actual high-rise urban area.

and Erasmus bridge, along the Weena and high-rise buildings at Parkstad was building has been approved: the
along the river Nieuwe Maas (Wilhelminapier, included, though. In the end the guidance Coolsingeltoren (187 metres, 2006). This
Kop van Zuid). John Worthington (DEGW) contained both quantitative and qualitative new tower might be a frontrunner in the
advised the city to treat its reconstruction criteria: the high-rise zones in the centre Rotterdam tradition, introducing the next,
architecture along the boulevards with were expanded, but not much, and the city or ‘third’, wave. It might not be. Buildings
care. He proposed a set back principle and defined three different types of high-rise over 80 metres are situated in the current
the city acted accordingly. zone, each with its own height regulations: high-rise zones, while moderately tall
– High-rise zones without height buildings between 50 and 80 metres are
Concentrating all the new tall buildings restrictions (Weena and Coolsingel) spread over a vast area covering the entire
along this one axis seriously limited the – High-rise zones suitable for buildings city centre. This last pattern matches the
number of locations the city could provide. between 70 and 150 metres tall reach of the city’s transit stations (radius
Within a decade Rotterdam ran out of – Transition zones adjacent to the other 500m) rather well. Some smaller clusters of
suitable plots. In a further development, two high-rise zones tall buildings can be found to the west,
the city faced proposals for buildings much south and east of the centre.
higher than had been allowed so far. The These zones should not be read as
guidance provided no answers on how to locations, but as areas in which locations If we classify Rotterdam’s tall buildings
deal with the shortages of building plots can be found. The precise sites for tall into three broad categories – ‘less than
and the proposals for super high-rise: it was buildings will still be determined in the 80 metres, 80 to 120 metres and above
time for an update. municipal zoning plan. Among the 120 metres’ – we can outline Rotterdam’s
qualitative criteria used in that process high-rise urban areas. Very tall: Weena,
Almost ten years later it was again John are public space, wind hindrance, living Coolsingel and Kop van Zuid. Tall: a central
Worthington who gave the city advice on environment, accessibility, parking, zone reaching from Rotterdam Central to
NovaTerra / jaargang 4 / nummer 3 / oktober 2004 / 19

the Wilhelminapier. Moderately tall: the

entire centre and some smaller clusters.

where do we go from here?

This is all history, but where do we go
from here? Looking back at Rotterdam’s
policies for tall buildings we could say that
the first guidance was too strict and the
second tried to tackle a non-issue: super
high-rise. The Rotterdam skyline has seen
a number of increases in scale, but these
were moderate, never ‘super’. The fragile Weenatoren and the Lijnbaan.

equilibrium between local soil conditions,

construction costs, the building code, the
way the municipal council determines land
prices, and the price people and businesses
are willing to pay for office space or housing,
change only gradually. So far they have
generated three characteristic height
categories (<80m, 80–120m and >120m) that
could form a solid basis for a new guidance.

This new guidance should incorporate

the real lesson of the building freeze.
This was not about high-rise, but about
monofunctionalism, about modernism. The
city centre needs to continue its development The wider and more flexible high-rise urban
areas in relation to public space.
into a lively mixed-use urban environment
with a higher quality of life. From that
perspective, guidance that focuses on the main urban axis. And yet this wider area is Reactions to:

question of where the two or three tallest still well connected to the city’s transit
buildings in town should be is not going to system and to important public spaces like summary
be very effective. It is unlikely that the the Lijnbaan, Hoogstraat, Westersingel, Analysis of Rotterdam’s tall buildings
overall quality of the city centre will depend Schiedamsedijk, Goudsesingel, Blaak, reveals that every leap forward in the
entirely on the position of two or three Westblaak, Rochussenstraat, Meent and development of high-rise has been
buildings, either positive or negative. Witte de Withstraat. Upgrading the spatial announced by a frontrunner that sets the
quality of these public spaces, improving standard for the era to come. Three
Instead of formulating a restrictive, reactive their relation to the transit system and characteristic height categories (<80m,
policy aimed at very tall buildings, an providing additional leisure and (food) 80 – 120m and >120m) define the zones of
active, responsive approach towards culture should all be part of such an tall buildings in Rotterdam. These could
moderately tall buildings could offer better integrated tall building policy, firmly aimed form the basis for a new tall buildings
opportunities to diversify Rotterdam’s at attracting new inhabitants, businesses policy for the city. Instead of the current
centre: the importance of buildings and institutions to the city centre. restrictive policy aimed at very tall
between 50 and 80 metres should not be Such a strategy relies on an active learning buildings, an active, responsive approach
overlooked. Recent interesting housing approach at all times to help potential towards moderately tall buildings would
schemes in this range to emerge are the investors and developers find suitable offer better opportunities for diversifying
Witte Keizer (70 metres, 2005) and the locations and guide them through the local the city centre and raising the quality of
Hoog aan de Maas (78 metres, 2006). The bureaucracy. Instead of focusing on the urban life. Z
area characterised by this building height is future height of the Rotterdam high-rise
vast and offers much more flexibility than urban area, it may be time to explore the
the tightly controlled zones along the city’s potential of its full historical width.

Related Interests