The towers in Rotterdam are getting more and even taller. What does it do to the living environment?


The Zalmhaven tower seen from the depot in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen.Statue Loes van Duijvendijk

‘I already think it’s beautiful,’ says Nina Hooimeijer as she walks through her newly built corner apartment, located on the fiftieth floor of the Zalmhaventoren in Rotterdam. It is a bare concrete room, with no furniture, kitchen or bathroom; her architect – who came to measure everything – still has to design it. But with a phenomenal view.

‘The Hague is there,’ she says, pointing north through the floor-to-ceiling windows, ‘on clear days you can even see Amsterdam.’ She opens the sliding doors to the west-facing balcony, which overlooks the harbors and the ocean, and laughs at her daughter who came to look at and ‘huh, where’s Euromast?’ early. The famous watchtower looks like a white needle.

At 215 meters, the Zalmhaventoren, designed by the architectural firm Dam & Partners, is the tallest building in the Netherlands, at least for the time being. Zalmhaventoren has no competitors with regard to the Post Tower, which is currently being built on the old post office on Coolsingel, CoolTower a little further (15o m) and Baantoren (158 m), whose construction will start next month. But much more and much more will go up in the coming years.

Zalmhaventoren, the tallest building in the Netherlands, seen from Westplein.  Statue Loes van Duijvendijk

Zalmhaventoren, the tallest building in the Netherlands, seen from Westplein.Statue Loes van Duijvendijk

The gigantic working model of the municipality, which the Architecture Center Rotterdam AIR exhibited last year, contained more than thirty newly planned towers, including the 280-meter-high residential complex Rise, which the architectural firm Powerhouse Company is to build on Hofplein. ‘Some visitors thought it was super cool,’ says AIR Director Barbara Luns, ‘but when I saw the model, I thought: wow, do we really want this? What kind of a city are we doing with all the stacked houses, how do you live there, and who are the apartments for? ‘

With condominiums ranging in price from 6 tons to 5 million euros (for a giant penthouse) and (free) rent between 1085 and 2195 euros a month, it is not for everyone to live in the Zalmhaventoren. The restaurant with a viewpoint at the top, 57th floor, will be freely accessible, however, admission will be charged. Visually, the white-beige tower is not very special or elegant. It looks neutral and functional, like the 70-meter-high twin towers that the KAAN Architect designed next to it, as a transition to the surrounding low-rise buildings.

View from the top floor of the Zalmhaventoren.  Statue Loes van Duijvendijk

View from the top floor of the Zalmhaventoren.Statue Loes van Duijvendijk

It raises the question of whether this “frontier project” shows the way forward; what’s next for manhattan on the maas?

If it was up to Nanne de Ru, architect director of the Powerhouse Company, the city would continue on the path it started in 1898 with the construction of the first European ‘skyscraper’: the 42-meter-high White House. »Rotterdam has always had the desire to make large buildings. Think of Bijenkorf by the architect Dudok from 1930, then the largest department store in Europe, or the Groothandelsgebouw. ​​’

Even then, there were high-rise fans and opponents. At the opening of the Shell Tower on Hofplein in 1976, the then mayor A. van der Louw said: ‘This is the last construction of big business.’ But the large company – which owns a lot of land in Rotterdam – just continued to expand into the air, from the headquarters of the National Netherlands next to the main railway station (Abe Bonnema, 1991) to De Rotterdam alias De Kolos van Koolhaas on Kop van South (2013). .

The entrance to Zalmhaventoren.  Statue Loes van Duijvendijk

The entrance to Zalmhaventoren.Statue Loes van Duijvendijk

This created a real Central District where it was a dead end at night. Therefore, the municipality decided to densify the center, where few people live compared to Amsterdam, with residential towers. Apartments with views are selling fast; there seems to be a need for this way of life, on its own and with a spectacular panorama. At the same time, a number of disadvantages emerged, such as the shadow effect, which in addition to blocking the view is often a reason for the residents to object to high-rise building plans. Wind nuisance is another problem. At Maastoren – like the Zalmhaventoren designed by Dam & Partners – you were almost blown backwards when you wanted inside, after which a huge canopy was later glued to the facade like a windbreaker. But especially the unattractive sight of towers at street level was a thorn in the side of the municipality. Take the residential towers De Hoge Heren (2000) opposite the Zalmhaven complex: From the sidewalk you see five layers of parking spaces and the doors to the landfill.

‘Living in high-rise buildings is a relatively new phenomenon’, says Emiel Arends, city planner in Rotterdam municipality. ‘The first residential tower in Rotterdam, on Weena, dates from 1992.’ The first high-rise policy, which was established in the 1990s, focused on the city’s image: where and how high can one build. Based on the experiences from the municipality’s wave of high-rise buildings in that period, a new high-rise building vision was developed in 2011, where attention was shifted from the skyline to ‘the city at eye level’. Among other things, the rule was introduced that a tower must be part of a building block that provides space for (semi) public functions such as shops or catering. On the ground floor of the Zalmhaventoren you will enter a large, publicly accessible lobby, on the side of Gedempte Zalmhaven will be planted.

Wijnhaven with the Casanova tower under construction.  Statue Loes van Duijvendijk

Wijnhaven with the Casanova tower under construction.Statue Loes van Duijvendijk

But with this high-rise vision, nothing had been said about the quality of life in residential towers. ‘We received signals from the police about criminal practices in the towers, which have to do with the anonymity of the high-rise buildings,’ says Arends. Therefore, in 2019 followed a ‘social’ update of the high-rise building vision, which among other things prescribes that you can not take the elevator from the parking garage to your home. You must first go through a common entrance.

In an interview with Rotterdam architecture magazine Fresh concrete National Adviser for the Physical Living Environment Daan Zandbelt responded to the high-rise building vision with a call for more intermediate high-rise buildings (six to ten storeys). He called the rational arguments used for high-rise buildings – money-back machines, urbanity, efficiency – ‘all myths’. He pointed to the high cost of elevator cores and the mandatory sprinklers over 70 meters, giving less money to architecture. On the surface that high-rise buildings occupy – including shadow effect, windfall and installations – you can, according to him, arrange as many houses with intermediate high-rise buildings. Other benefits: a more humane measure, you can sit in the shade of trees in the summer and open the windows, which means you can do without energy-consuming air conditioning. His point: medium-rise buildings provide more opportunities to add spatial quality to the city.

Little C, new construction near Coolhaven, inspired by the New York borough of Greenwich Village.  Statue Loes van Duijvendijk

Little C, new construction near Coolhaven, inspired by the New York borough of Greenwich Village.Statue Loes van Duijvendijk

A good example of this is Little C, an ensemble of fifteen residential and work buildings with owner-occupied and rented ceilings, which transformed a dilapidated place on Coolhaven into a busy neighborhood. The designers were inspired by the New York borough of Greenwich Village – known as the backdrop for the TV series friends and Sex & The City – with its brick facades with steel fire stairs. The buildings are grouped around a green square with a café and a sunny terrace by the water, and are connected by steel bridges; for example, the three share an elevator, staircase and shared roof terrace.

The ceilings in Little C primarily attract singles and couples. What about the families that Rotterdam would like to keep in the city? For them, high-rise buildings did not have much to offer so far. Therefore, in 2016, the municipality held a competition for ‘family high-rises’ on Lloydpier. Architect Laurens Boodt won with his design Toren van Babel, a pyramid-shaped building with 24 family homes, which have their front door on a path that winds up from the street. The design is now being realized. Already in 2004, Van Bergen Kolpa Architecten had devised a plan for one family scraper i Baankwartieret: De Maasbode. This 70 meter high tower consists of blocks of family houses with large balconies, which are stacked around an inner street. It took years to complete the plan, but now construction has begun.

Small C-statue Loes van Duijvendijk

Little CStatue Loes van Duijvendijk

‘Rotterdam must choose’, says Robert Winkel, architect director of the Mei agency. ‘Do we keep seeing Manhattan, chasing Dubai, with taller and crazier towers? These buildings give nothing back to the city; they are just cheerful. ‘

He finds the New York borough of Brooklyn much more interesting, especially the site of a former sugar factory, where the renovation of the heritage has been combined with medium-sized new construction and the creation of a new park.

Wine gate with Casanova tower under construction.  Statue Loes van Duijvendijk

Wine gate with Casanova tower under construction.Statue Loes van Duijvendijk

Densification and greening at the same time, he will with the 50 meter high residential complex Sawa, which he will develop on Lloydpier together with his company Nice-developers and the housing company ERA Contour. The energy-neutral building, which is gradually rising and on which lush roof terraces have been laid out, houses 109 homes, which are accessed from galleries with built-in plant boxes. It will be built of sustainably harvested wood (with the exception of foundation and lifting cores), will have nesting boxes for birds, three thousand plants that attract insects, a common kitchen garden and an exhibition space. For free rental properties you pay 700 to 1,000 euros per month (for an apartment of 50 to 70 square meters), a condominium costs about 650,000 euros for 100 square meters, with 40 square meters of outdoor space. The project has already won several sustainability and innovation awards.

CoolTower under construction.  Statue Loes van Duijvendijk

CoolTower under construction.Statue Loes van Duijvendijk

Arends prefers to let go of the comparison with New York. ‘Manhattan aan de Maas sounds good, I have no problem with it as a slogan, but it does not make sense as an example. New York has a completely different scale. One block is half of Wijnhaven. There they set up one or two towers in New York, we set up ten towers. The smaller size of the European city, where we build on stamps, requires different spatial solutions. You can now see these solutions in new building types, where it is clear that taller is not necessarily better. We have shown that we can do it, for me it is just: Rotterdam by the Maas. ‘

Hiking in the heights

On the occasion of Rotterdam’s architecture month, the Rotterdam Rooftop Walk opens on 26 May (until 24 June), a walking route ‘at height’ with a 60-meter long airlift over Coolsingel. The project is a collaboration between the architectural firm MVRDV and Rotterdamse Dakendagen, and is carried out in scaffolding material. The heart of Architecture Month is the Podium on the Roof of the Het Nieuwe Instituut, also designed by MVRDV. In the building is the exhibition (At home to see. rotterdamarchitecturemonth.nl

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