The city centre, which was largely destroyed in 1940, is a patchwork of architectural styles: icons of the Nieuwe Bouwen school of modernist Dutch architecture stand alongside characteristic post-war reconstruction architecture from the 1960s, '70s and '80s. These historic buildings clash cheerfully with the hypermodern skyscrapers built in more recent decades.
Even before the reconstruction era, Rotterdam was known for its groundbreaking architecture. The housing projects designed by Michiel Brinkman and J.J.P. Oud, the first gallery apartment building in the Netherlands (the Bergpolder flat) by Van Tijen, the Sonneveld House (now a museum home), and the Van Nelle Factory by Brinkman & Van der Vlugt turned Rotterdam into the cradle of Nieuwe Bouwen architecture. Since these projects fortunately survived the bombardment unscathed, they can still be viewed today. The Van Nelle Factory even made it onto the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2014.
The city council's courageous decision to depart from tradition entirely in 1940 was radical. Rather than reconstructing the old city in its former style, they opted for a spacious city plan and modern architecture. Light, air and space: that was the motto. Lijnbaan, the first car-free shopping boulevard in the Netherlands, the Cube Houses, Erasmus Bridge and the Kunsthal are examples of architecture that have been crucial in Rotterdam's process of becoming the city it is today.
In recent years, the city has experienced another major transformation. Forging forward at the tireless pace so characteristic of the Rotterdam locals, one spectacular edifice after the other was added to the city's already-imposing skyline. Rotterdam also took huge strides forward in terms of renovation and reactivation. Rotterdam Central District became a testing for creative pioneers, transforming from a desolate zone to one of the city's most dynamic nightlife districts. The Oude Noorden area and Katendrecht also experienced major metamorphoses, becoming popular destinations and cultural attractions.
If you're hoping to see all the city's architectural highlights, you'll have a busy schedule! Will you start on the exciting Kop van Zuid peninsula, where you can admire quite a few buildings by the world's stars of architecture in a relatively small area? Or will you begin with the classics of modern architecture? Would you prefer to head off on your own (guided by a walking route like Roaming Rotterdam) or does a guided architectural tour by UrbanGuides or another organisation suit your fancy better? Regardless of what you decide, just keep your eyes wide open and you'll never be bored.