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.
As a result of the bombardment, very few historic buildings remain in the centre of Rotterdam. Nevertheless, there are still a few to be found. The Laurenskerk was restored after the war despite the considerable damage it suffered. The Schielandshuis was spared and stands between skyscrapers behind the Coolsingel. The 45-metre high Witte Huis from 1898 at the Oude Haven, Europe’s first skyscraper, can also still be admired. The Stadhuis and the old Post Office still stand on the Coolsingel but are not as old as they seem. They were completed in the 1920s.
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. The Lijnbaan (the first pedestrianised shopping street in the Netherlands), the Doelen, the Groothandelsgebouw, the Euromast and the Bijenkorf are all icons from that time. The Hilton is also an icon from the reconstruction era. This building from reconstruction architect Huig Maaskant became a national monument in 2016.
In the 70s a counter-reaction to the reconstruction began. Because of the relatively low number of people living in the city post-reconstruction, a decision was made to build more homes in the centre, often on a smaller ‘human’ scale. Examples of this development are the buildings around the Oude Haven with the renowned Cube Houses. The permanent breakthrough of the high-rise followed and the Kop van Zuid was developed with the Erasmusbrug as a new city icon. The Kunsthal is another important new icon. Rotterdam got a new 'real' skyline and with it acquired the image of a global city.
Rotterdam has been busy the last few years. Many new towers have arisen, and many new iconic buildings designed. The Delftse Poort was the tallest building in the Netherlands in the 90s but has since then been overtaken by the Montevideo, the Maastoren and the New Orleans. De Rotterdam was also built and although not the city’s tallest building it is the largest. Not as tall but no less iconic are the Central Station, the Markthal and the Timmerhuis.
Rotterdam will never be finished, and construction cranes will continue to sway merrily across the skyline like beacons of innovation. Rotterdam definitely still wants to double the number of city centre inhabitants, and there are many new residential buildings and towers needed for this like the 215-metre high Zalmhaven Tower. The demand for new offices, hotels and cultural institutions will also remain. To this end, the Collectiegebouw is now being built in the Museumpark, and there are plans for a Dutch Windwheel which include a hotel.