De Rotterdam by OMA

De Rotterdam (Photo © Ossip van Duivenbode from OMA site)

Key Information

  • Name: De Rotterdam
  • Location: Rotterdam
  • Architect: OMA
  • Year: 2009-20113
  • Cost: approx €340 million Euros
  • Program: Mixed use

Introduction

Rem Koolhaas is The Netherlands most influential Architect and he built a Skyscraper in Rotterdam, the biggest building in the nation. It’s a compelling matchup of Architect, program and city.

The Anti-Architect

Rem is the anti-Architects Architect, the thinker who has done more than anyone in the last fifty years to shape the field of Architecture, both himself and people who have come out of his office. He made his name writing about skyscrapers in Delirious New York.

The Modern City

The City of Rotterdam is the built form of the modern Netherlands. Bombed in the war it is a slightly schizophrenic city with monuments and city plans scattered here and there. A coherency always implied in the future but never achieved. Unlike in Amsterdam here you can build big. I really enjoyed visiting the city and would love to go back and explore it more.

The Skyscraper

The Skyscraper. The tall tower The secret dream of every modern building and their Architect to be and to build as high as possible.

Combined together this makes De Rotterdam an interesting combination of circumstances and conditions, let’s see what sort of building came out.

Long Gestation

The longest gestation period of any Koolhaas project beginning in 1997 but too expensive to build. Only because of the recession in 2008 did it then become cheap enough to realise.

Location

Photo by Lewis Martin

Its in part go the Kop van Zuid area of Rotterdam the old and partly abandoned port area of Rotterdam now being redeveloped. At the end of the Pier close by sits the Hotel New York which is where Dutch and other European emigres would stay before making the long transatlantic voyage to a new life , a fresh start in the New World. But something came back the other way from New York. A skyscraper that appear to be a refugee from the Big Apple. Indeed the name De Rotterdam comes from one of the boats that sailed from here to the New World.

Program

The Program is mixed use. Housing, commercial offices, hotel. Up to 4,000 office staff in 60,000m² of office space, 6,000m² of retail and public areas, 2,000m² of fitness facilities, 1,500m² of catering, conference and event facilities and 240 apartments.

Tower or Block

Photo by Lewis Martin

At 100m wide and 150m tall its floor plan is less than the size of a football field. But its length is two thirds of its height so it’s not really a skyscraper more a superblock. Although it appears as three separate slightly separate but interlocking towers it functions as a whole but with thin vertical strips carved out of it.

Koolhaas has stated it shifts to appear different and dynamic especially to car traffic from the surrounding roads and over the bridge from the North side. This is a definitely true in fact it’s a subtle and nicely composed play of mass in an otherwise supersized project.

Image from OMA website

It’s also an interesting composition its almost like a program diagram turned into an elevation. The public spaceand car park deck is at 90 degrees to the other programs and the Y axis was been substituted for the Z axis in the whole building.

Toyo Ito as told in S,M,L,XL once compared Rem Koolhaas to a ‘mechanical baseball-pitching machine’. With the perspective of all the years this project was on the drawing board I think this was probably made and remade again, and then again. The program and the visual appearance and actual function of an interlocking block of multiuser space has been allowed to dictate the design. The idea of the skyline, the sun through the dynamic spaces between the towers, the strong aesthetic gesture itself a restatement of the program.

It even implies the flexibility of the space inside, it may shift depending on financial requirements.

Critisism

“The building is a cynical and brutal monument to the city’s delusions of grandeur,” says Wouter Vanstiphout, professor of design and politics at Delft university. “While Amsterdam is trying to fill its empty offices, Rotterdam is building more and more, but there’s no one to go in them. It is madness when there is 30% vacancy across the city – it follows the same logic as saying, ‘Let’s build houses, because we need more people.'”

Guardian Article

While Commercial vacancy rate is now 15% about double that of the rest of The Netherlands (end 2019) I think this is a criticism of the market and not the building per se. The building maybe should not have been built, maybe Rotterdam didn’t really need it but it is a Rotterdam monument now and will embody a certain time, a certain place and way of making space.

Conclusion

De Rotterdam is hard to see beyond the context of Rem Koolhaas’ love of the skyscraper and OMA’s theoretical legacy but it appears slightly demure under the weight of this expectation. But perhaps it is just me projecting my own ideological baggage onto the steel and glass tower that can’t support it. OMA took the program of the skyscraper and made it the buildings’ Parti. Rem just played it straight, followed the logic of the program and refilled the baseball machine…….

Further reading and References:

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