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Rotterdam Architecture

The Intriguing Architectural Gems of Rotterdam

Nestled on the scenic banks of the New Meuse (Nieuwe Maas) River, Rotterdam is billed as the second-largest Dutch city after Amsterdam and Europe’s biggest port. This multicultural city is home to approximately 630,000 people from over 170 different nationalities and offers something to see and do at every turn.

Rotterdam is highlighted with soaring skyscrapers, artistic bridges to unique Rotterdam architecture such as the cube houses, awe-inspiring commercial buildings, and even hosts the International Architecture Biennale and the Netherlands Architecture Institute. That said, here are nine must-see architectural masterpieces of Rotterdam that you just can’t miss.

Sparta Stadion (Het Kasteel)

Home Ground of the team Sparta Rotterdam – the Dutch professional football club, the Sparta Stadion dubbed Het Kasteel is tucked away in the neighbourhood of Spangen, Spartapark Noord, and was built in 1916 based on a plan by architects J.H. de Roos and W.F. Overeynder, and offers a capacity of 11,000 people.

The name of the stadium “Het Kasteel” gets its name from the small building located at the back of the stadium “Kasteel Stand”, which looks similar to a castle. This small building is the only authentic remains of the original design, and currently spans the length of the pitch.

This oldest football stadium in Holland has played host for two football games in the 1928 Summer Olympics held in nearby Amsterdam and was completely rebuilt in 1998 and 1999 according to a plan by architects Zwarts & Jansma. The stadium today still includes the two towers i.e. the Kasteel building and is located approximately three kilometres from Rotterdam’s city centre and main railway station.

Erasmus Brug

The Erasmus Bridge is both a cable-stayed and bascule bridge that is located in the centre of Rotterdam and is regarded as the second largest in the city. It is a striking feat of engineering that was created in 1989 and opened to the public in 1996. It was designed by Ben van Berkel, and costs over 165 million Euros to build, and was officially inaugurated by Queen Beatrix on September 6, 1996. 

This Rotterdam architectural icon stands 139 meters high, measures 800 meters, and is tipped by the 89-metre-long Bascule Bridge, which is the largest and heaviest of its kind in Western Europe and caters to ships that cannot pass under the Erasmus Bridge. The Erasmus Bridge has been featured in a plethora of events and movies including the 1998 Jackie Chan film Who Am I?, the Red Bull Air Race, and as a backdrop in DJ Tiësto performance.

Built from light blue steel, the Erasmus Bridge is nicknamed the Swan by locals owing to its distinctive shape and connects both the northern and southern parts of Rotterdam. The best place to get a panoramic view of the Erasmus Bridge and Rotterdam’s waterfront is from the top of nearby Euromast, which is one of the highest towers in Holland.

You can even hop on a water taxi and head to Spido dock, and embark on a special journey to admire the city centre’s modern skyline, steamship ‘Rotterdam’ – the former cruise flagship of shipping company Holland America Line, and internationally renowned architecture.

Van Nellefabriek

Located on the banks of a canal in the Spaanse Polder industrial zone, Van Nellefabriek or the Van Nelle Factory in English was designed and built in the 1920s by architects Johannes Brinkman and Leendert van der Vlugt. It is regarded as one of the icons of the 20th century industrial Rotterdam architecture and consists of a complex of factories that are set parallel to a large internal roadway.

It showcases “Het Nieuwe Bouwen”, modern architecture, and served as a factory in the 20th century for processing tea, tobacco, coffee, chewing gum, instant pudding and rice. Van Nellefabriek is regarded as one of the most prominent industrial monuments in the Netherlands and is a treat for architecture and art enthusiasts.

Easily accessible by bus 38 from Rotterdam Central Station, Van Nellefabriek was renovated and redesigned in the year 2000, and today is home to several leading design and media firms, and even offers a wide choice of rooms, which can be booked for conferences, meetings and events, with the total capacity of 5000 people.

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The backside of The famous Van Nellefabriek

The Kiefhoek Museum House

Another pearl of Rotterdam’s pearls of modernism, the Kiefhoek museum House is set on the south bank of the river and is a residential area that was built between 1928 and 1930 based on a design by architect J. J. P. Oud. The primary goal of this neighbourhood was to educate people, but some of these plans by the architect did not materialize due to lack of funding.

Even today, several unique details in the Kiefhoek House Museum are evident such as the frames of the windows, which are not square but designed at an angle to let more sunshine enter the house. The first-floor plan consisted of 294 houses, which were small yet came practically furnished with the basics such as a coat rack, small fireplace.

The Kiefhoek House Museum is basically one of the original houses that are located near to the Hendrik Ido plein. If you want to visit the house you need to make a reservation before the visit. A professional guide will show you the house. It is important to note that the buildings and structures today are not the original structures but were demolished and rebuilt between 1989 and 1995 due to deterioration over the years.

Groothandelsgebouw

Located in the heart of Rotterdam, Groothandelsgebouw, meaning wholesale buildings or offices is a massive monument that is within close proximity of the Rotterdam Central Station. If was one of the first major constructions erected after the bombing of the city in the Second World War, and was completed in 1953.

This iconic post-war reconstruction was designed by Van Tijen en Maaskant, the building today has five entrances, and is remodelled after the Merchandise Mart in Chicago by architect Hugh Maaskant. The five entrances of Groothandelsgebouw are marked with the letters A through E, where the main station is set at A station 45, and D and E are located on Conrad Street.

Groothandelsgebouw is infused with unique characteristics that set it apart from other architectural places of interest in Rotterdam such as several grids of concrete, octagonal columns that support the building. It served as a primary location for wholesalers to store their stock, and have showrooms and offices, and was completely renovated in 2005.

Even after this major revamp, the exterior of the building still leaves tourists in a state of awe, but the spaces inside that were first accommodated by wholesalers has not been transformed into a space for creative entrepreneurs. Groothandelsgebouw also houses restaurants, a rooftop bar, and a gym and is sometimes considered a city within a city.

Witte Huis

Dubbed the White House, Witte Huis is a building and National Heritage Site in Rotterdam and was built in 1898 in Art Nouveau style. The 10 storey building was designed by architect Willem Molenbroek, and was considered considerably tall at the time it was conceived. In terms of numbers, the Witte Huis measures 141 feet tall and is sometimes regarded as the first high rise building in Europe.

Witte Huis is constructed from steel, iron and concrete, and is equipped with two thick walls in its interior that are designed to support the overall structure and to increase its overall strength. It cost approximately 127,900 Dutch guilders to build and is one of the few buildings that have survived the German bombing campaigns of World War II.

From this eye-catching monument, visitors can enjoy unsurpassed Rotterdam’s picturesque Oude Haven, and can even indulge in a fine cup of coffee on the ground floor of the Grand Café Het Witte Huis. Rotterdam’s White House is easily recognizable from a fair distance away, owing to its decorative roof, white façade, and ornate turrets.

Markthal

The Markthal Rotterdam also referred to as the Market Hall is a market hall topped by an office building. It was designed by architectural firm MVRDV and was opened by Queen Máxima of the Netherlands in October 2014. Apart from the massive market hall, the building is also home to 228 apartments, 1600 m2 market and restaurants, 4600 m2 retail space, and underground four-storey parking that can accommodate over 1200 cars.

The building is made from grey natural stone and resembles an archwise structure similar to a horseshoe. Furthermore, there are large glass facades located on each side of the building that consists of smaller glass windows, which measure approximately 148 millimetres wide. These glass windows are suspended by several steel cables that measure 42 meters wide and 34 meters high, making them the largest glass window cable structure in Europe.

The interior of the Markthal is a sight to behold with impressive 11.000 m2 artwork by Arno Coenen that showcases large fruits, vegetables, flowers, fish, seeds and insects. This artwork by Coenen was created using advanced 3D techniques, some of which are used by Pixar Studios to make animated movies. It is built over a fourteenth-century buried village and at a cost of €178.000.000.

Sonneveld Huis

Designed by Brinkman and Van der Vlugt for Albertus Sonneveld, the Sonneveld House showcases true Dutch functional style and was once owned by the director of the Van Nell factory and his family. The house has a lot of stories to tell about the influential lives of the Dutch family in the 1930s and is open today to visitors to explore this architectural gem as well as take a tour through the house.

The Sonneveld House is generously spaced and features several balconies and expansive areas of fenestration, from where visitors can enjoy clear views of the surrounding lush gardens. Most, if not all of the items in the house are made by the Gispen firm and especially for the Sonneveld family and features interior and furnishings that blend well with one another.

One of the noteworthy characteristics of the Sonneveld House is that no two rooms are alike, where each one is decorated in a different colour, and serves its own unique function. It featured a telephone in almost every room in the house and has lent inspiration to several different Dutch housing styles built ever since.

Rotterdam Central Station

The original building of the new Rotterdam Central Station was designed by architect Sybold van Ravesteyn and was completed in 1957. It was constructed after World War II, and today serves as a central railway station rather than the four stations in and around the city centre.

Also known as the international gateway to Rotterdam, Rotterdam Central Station sees nearly 110,000 travellers each day looking to catch a bus, metro, tram or train. There are several international trains that stop at the station each day including the Thalys to Paris, and intercity trains such as the Intercity Direct.

The Rotterdam Central Station has received a major makeover in recent years that includes partial covering of the roofs with solar panels, but there are still a few historical elements on display such as the letters spelling out Centraal Station (today in LED lights), two granite sculptures locates in platform 1, and the original clock in the front façade.

Final Thoughts

Rotterdam is a top spot for architectural aficionados and is flourished with buildings that feature several different styles of phenomenal designs. From the cube houses to the Erasmus Bridge, Rotterdam is flourished with historical buildings that are defined by post-war reconstruction architecture, which blend in well with the modern skyscrapers.

Apart from the places mentioned on this list, there are a few places in Rotterdam that are worth a visit such as the Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen – a building that is regarded as the first art storage facility in the world, and is where visitors can browse more than 150,000 pieces of art.

Another great example of urban architecture is the De Rotterdam building, which consists of three linked towers that stand 150 meters tall, and spans the size of a football field. Visitors can sign up for any of the tours, and explore these architectural highlights in Rotterdam with an expert guide.

If you are looking for background information about architecture in Rotterdam, Het Nieuwe Instituut is the museum to see. The State Archives for Dutch Architecture and Urbanism is managed here. Het Nieuwe Instituut also contains the National Collection of Dutch Architecture and Urban Design, with drawings, photographs, posters and models from the archives and collections of Dutch architects and urban planners. And you can see exhibitions about architecture on a regular base.