“Building is an obsession here in Rotterdam,” was one of the first statements I heard when I arrive and was greeted by my Venezuelan friend Alonso, who has been teaching graduate classes at Erasmus University for the past three years. My first steps out of my train had already confirmed that fact as I was immediately confronted by the construction site that is the Central Station. However, I would come to learn in the subsequent days just how much of the City’s identity is tied to rebuilding.
If Rotterdam was to place a newspaper ad in the classifieds the heading might read, “desperately seeking facelift”. This desire to reinvent itself is not, however the result of an identity crisis – as may be the case in other cities I’ve visited (e.g. Manila). No, the impression I get is that the City considers its high degree of accessibility as a valuable distinction. Rotterdam’s resilience is the result of its ability to adapt and improve over time.
Following the complete destruction of Rotterdam, there was a vision to create “Manhattan on the Maas”, the river that divides the north and south halves of the City. All the features of a modern city were realized including high rise buildings and broad streets to accommodate auto traffic.
“You can find the works of all the famous architects here,” was another statement I heard on more than one occasion. And, it’s true. Several world-renowned architecture and design firms are based in the City – e.g. O.M.A., West8, & MVRDV (I’m not an architect so I won’t act like I know any of them – my host wrote down the names for me). Rotterdam’s openness to creative ideas makes it, not only attractive to architects, but also a bit of an urban planner’s paradise within a country where most cities are defined by their historic character.
The constant construction extends to their streets as well. Due to the soils here, streets sink on average 1 cm per year and most must be rebuilt every 20 years or so. This offers traffic engineers the chance to rethink the design and functions of a street every couple decades.
Most of the infrastructure projects being constructed will vastly improve conditions for walking, biking and transit users. But even if it isn’t perfect, the next generation of designers will always have the possibility to make it right a couple decades from now.