By Ulf Meyer
The new De Rotterdam Tower by OMA creates a city-within-a-city in Rotterdam whilst at the same time referring back to Rem Koolhaas' early analysis of New York and Bigness. Unintentionally it also proves that what works in Manhattan may not automatically work in the Netherland's second city.
Rotterdam wants to be like New York. Badly. Traditionally in the shadow of Amsterdam (its big brother) and having seen its port move downstream, the number two Dutch city's confidence has taken a blow.. A skyline could help. Even though there is no pressing need to go vertical in the low "Netherlands", the trend up was already started a generation ago: The Kop van Zuid, the old harbor, is where this ambition is mostly manifested - and where a new triple-skyscraper was just inaugurated, designed by the city's, the nation's, maybe the continent's most famous contemporary architect, Rem Koolhaas.
Koolhaas assembled his towers on the bank of the Maas River like a stack of containers. The building is quite a colossus - its 162.000 square meters of space make it hard to tell if it should be called a 'building', a 'complex' or a 'vertical mini-city'. The masterplan for the Wilhelma-Pier foresaw separate towers on this site, but the famous architect was able to convince the authorities to let him merge the two planned needles into a set of merged blocks. Their six-story podium contains shops, restaurants, a fitness center, parking garage and a movie theater. All visual drama stems from shifting the towers slightly against one another.
Koolhaas created the separate volumes with openings to frame exciting views that you can't help but notice in Rotterdam. "The towers can be a wall, three separate buildings or one single mass", he says. "The most important thing is the perception as you drive over the Erasmus Bridge" according to Koolhaas. It is true: The views through his towers are much more amazing than the view of the towers themselves. The blocks were cut in half and shuffled up, the slits between them creating stroboscopic views of the city.
The idea behind this move had already been laid out almost 40 years ago: In his 1975 book 'Delirious New York' Koolhaas elaborated his theory of 'Manhattanism'. It is as if he has now turned this thinking into a building - literally, because the De Rotterdam has everything that the early New York towers also had; mass, bigness and the notion of being self-referential and non-site-specific. It is 150m tall and more than 100m wide.
The name of the building was taken from a passenger ship that used to travel from Rotterdam to The New World, bringing immigrants to America and new ideas back home with it - until the service ceased in 1971. The De Rotterdam was once the flagship of the 'Holland-America-Line'.
A cheap building - for 340 Million Euros, that is
From the atrium elevators shoot up to the 44th floor. In its tops the towers contain three functions: a hotel with 285 rooms in the East, offices in the Mid Tower and 240 pricey apartments in the West. The exterior does not reflect these different uses, but hides them behind uniform mullion façades. The simple shiny, gridded aluminum curtain walls reveal wide views over the city from the upper floors. But the interiors are prosaic. Inside, the De Rotterdam is "just a cheap building", Koolhaas says. The Municipality of Rotterdam itself will move into the tower next year, providing stable income for the private developer who spent € 340 million on the super-tower.
The De Rotterdam is the fourth skyscraper Koolhaas has designed (after Beijing, Shenzhen and London) and the biggest in the Netherlands: It is a city within the city in which you can live, work, shop, dine and relax without ever leaving. The wall of shuffling blocks can feel scale-less and unreal at times with parts of the tower-slabs cantilevering by up to eight meters. Diagonal concrete trusses brace the tower.
The iconic project is a monument to the city's ambition to rise. While the desired hyper-density of New York however, it of course cannot achieve. Koolhaas brought back the idea of a "Manhattan on the Maas" to his home town, adding a striking new visual magnet for Rotterdam's skyline.
Facts about De Rotterdam
Architect: Rem Koolhaas/OMA
Location: Wilhelmapier. Rotterdam, NL
Uses: Apartments, Offices, Hotel, Fitness Center
Size: 160,000m2 in total
Opening: November 2013
Cost: 340m Euros
Last updated: February 17, 2014