Baankwartier is the district bounded by Schiedamse Vest to the west, Vasteland to the south, Leuvehaven to the east and Westblaak to the north. Most of this district was destroyed by the bombardment of May 1940. To the west of Baankwartier lies the Cool district, a small part of which was destroyed by the bombardment. Traffic widening measures on Westblaak in the 1960s led to further demolition. Both districts are closely interconnected, so it makes sense to discuss their post-war reconstruction together.
Baankwartier contains a mixture of housing, offices, shops and businesses. Besides housing, Cool-Zuid contains offices, shops and cafés. Some specific functions such as health and entertainment that were prominent in these districts before the war also returned after the war. A number of buildings for healthcare were also built here. Many newspapers were based in Cool-Zuid. A faint echo of the illustrious nightlife scene around the pre-war Schiedamsedijk still exists in both areas, with cafés, restaurants and nightclubs, a cinema and a branch of the Salvation Army.
The fire boundary meanders along a complicated line through the area. Both the southern and northern edges of Baankwartier were spared by the bombardment. To the north, a portion of the Bijenkorf department store by Dudok survived. Initially, it was planned to use this surviving volume as the starting point for the new Bijenkorf. The neighbouring structure, the Dennehove residential building on Schiedamse Vest designed by Jan Wils in 1940 survived intact. To the south, the brand-new Municipal Health Service building from 1940 by city architect Van der Steur also survived, as did the neighbouring housing block, a school building and the Walloon Church. The Rotterdamsche Hypotheekbank building was the only structure near the end of Witte de Withstraat to survive. A small part of Cool-Zuid was also destroyed.
New traffic routes
The road-widening development in Cool-Zuid in the 1960s caused more buildings to be demolished than had been destroyed in the war. Connecting Blaak and Rochussenstraat directly with each other meant that the remains of the old Bijenkorf did have to be demolished in the end. Moreover, openings were brusquely punched through Zwarte Paardenstraat, Boomgaardsstraat and Eendrachtsstraat.
New ideas for traffic flows had other consequences for the area. Before the war, Coolsingel extended diagonally towards Schiedamse Vest, but in the post-war Basis Plan, Coolsingel was realigned towards Leuvehaven and Schiedamsedijk. As a result, Schiedamse Vest lost its status as a prominent (shopping) street. The angled position of the Rotterdamsche Bank on Coolsingel and the generous width of Schiedamse Vest recall the pre-war situation.
Entertainment venues clustered around Schiedamsedijk before the Second World War. It was an ordinary street lined on both sides by cafés, hotels and cinemas. After the red-light district around Zandstraat was cleared to make way for the city hall and main post office, prostitution began to concentrate around Schiedamsedijk from 1920 on. Close to one hundred cafés and brothels on ‘the Dike’ mostly attracted seafarers on shore leave. One of the best-known cafés was De Cosmopoliet, where jazz was played and the brothers Jaap and Arie Valkhoff and Malando performed. The Salvation Army was very active in the area, which was also the location of other city amenities for the sick and the weak: the City Poorhouse on Vasteland, the Municipal Baths on Baan, the Rotterdam Open-Air School on Boschhoek, and the Central Health Building on Baan, which was completed in 1940.
Health became more strongly represented in the post-war period with the construction of the Eye Hospital, the headquarters of the Salvation Army and the Dutch Food Inspection Service. The old Schiedamsedijk did not return. Instead, it became a broad traffic artery overlooking Leuvehaven, with blocks of shops, offices and apartments along one side only. Although very few entertainment venues reappeared in the area, the Oase Bar on Schildersstraat, the Wieck dance club on Westblaak and Scala cinema (later renamed Cinerama) received unexpected company from a number of nightclubs on Hartmansstraat. A plan for an entertainment centre on Landje close to the Scots Church was shot down in 1952 owing to protests. It wasn’t until the 1970s that Witte de Withstraat became a somewhat shady nightlife zone. Later, an active municipal policy gave this street a more cultural feel, and in recent years it has developed into a popular entertainment district that stretches to Schiedamse Vest and Schildersstraat.
The rebuilding of Baankwartier kicked off as early as 1942 with the construction of the Eye Hospital. This was planned as a substantial structure on Schiedamse Vest, similar in scale with the Bijenkorf and Dennehove buildings. The buildings that sprang up on Schiedamse Vest are also substantial, among them the Cityflat residential building, the Nationale Handelsbank and Regional Employment Office. The remains of the watercourse on Schiedamse Singel was filled with the rubble of bombed buildings. The curved form of development here is the only visible reminder of the early city ramparts. Nothing was built here, apart from the Scots Church, possibly owing to the difficulty of constructing the church on the rubble. The area opposite the Eye Hospital and the Walloon Church also remained largely undeveloped.
The block between Baan and Schiedamsedijk was earmarked for commercial use. A number of municipal amenities were also built here, including a fire station, a building for the Dutch Food Inspection Service and a substation for the District Heating. A double service street was created behind the tall residential block on Schiedamsedijk. The first new building here was for A. N. van der Hulst, a wallpaper wholesale company, on Hoornbrekerstraat, a traditionalist design by architecture office Vermeer and Van Herwaarden.
Schiedamsedijk replaced Schiedamse Vest as the main traffic route. A number of substantial residential blocks with spacious retail units on the ground floor appeared along the eastern side, in height matching the GGD building. The bank of the Leuvehaven dock remained undeveloped. Instead, it was lined with mooring spots for inland barges. A tall office building, the Leuveflat, was positioned as an urban accent at the corner of Schildersstraat. Likewise, the Maastorenflat, formally at the end of Schiedamsedijk, but actually part of Nieuwe Werk, was another urban landmark. In wasn’t until the late 1950s that the last portion of the Bijenkorf was demolished, and it wasn’t until the late 1970s that the block around Brandersplaats was completed with the De Nieuwe Veste residential building by Aat van Tilburg.
The triangular block framed by Witte de Withstraat, William Boothlaan and Schiedamse Vest consists of one building containing dwellings and shops. Apart from that, the block contains the surviving Rotterdamsche Hypotheekbank, an office building with showroom for Blikman & Sartorius, the Salvation Army complex, and an office for the De Maasbode daily newspaper. For a time, Witte de Withstraat was known as the Fleet Street of Rotterdam. It was home to the new building for De Rotterdammer newspaper (on the corner of Hartmansstraat) and located further down the street was the Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant. For many years, the Nederlandse Dagblad Unie and later Het Vrije Volk were located at number180 on Westblaak.
The perimeter building block between Westblaak, Schiedamse Vest, Witte de Withstraat and Hartmansstraat contains a central service courtyard, accessible through two gateways. The large Scala/Cinerama cinema takes up a large portion of the courtyard. A scheme of housing and shops by Hendriks Van der Sluys & Van den Bosch from 1952 lines Schiedamse Vest, a similar development by Lockhorst en Overeijnder from 1950 lines Witte de Withstraat, and another one by Lockhorst from 1952 lines Hartmansstraat. These are typically solid Rotterdam post-war blocks by equally reputable Rotterdam offices. The residential block on Witte de Withstraat is vertically articulated between the intermediate glass staircases, probably in an attempt to blend with the existing development of individual sites along this street.
The south side of the block consists of four mid-sized office buildings: the Nederlandse Overzeebank by Hendriks Van der Sluys & Van den Bosch from 1955; Amstleven by Harry Nefkens from 1956; an office building with the Scala Theater by G.E. Lette from 1957; and the Eerste Hollandsche Levensverzekering Bank by the Kraaijvangers from 1961.
The second section of Westblaak wasn’t developed until the 1970s with rather clumsy-looking speculative development: the Cometon office building by Hoogstad & Van Tilburg from 1978, the NDU office by Bakker & Verhoeff from 1972, and the Kok & Co office building by Harry Nefkens from 1970.
In the late 1950s, a plan was mooted to build a tram tunnel beneath the Nieuwe Maas waterway, with a possible tunnel extension beneath Schiedamsedijk. The result, in the end, was a metro. For years, Schiedamsedijk was a construction site.
Attempts to breathe new life into the area around Leuvehaven had been ongoing since the early 1970s. First there were plans for a World Trade Center in Leuvehaven in the form of two American skyscrapers. During the C70 event there was a floating dolphinarium near Plein 1945, and Jan Hoogstad designed the Waterverband with development around Churchillplein. The Maritime Museum was built on the corner of Blaak and Schiedamsedijk. A hotel and Imax theatre were built on the other corner of Schiedamsedijk and Boompjes. Pavilions stretched between the two corners. The centre for inland shipping was closed, and housing was built on the piers, and Leuvehaven acquired a recreational character.
Construction of the Erasmus Bridge in the mid-1990s changed the character of Schiedamsedijk again. It became the main traffic and tram route from Coolsingel towards the southern half of the city.
With the popularity of Rotterdam as a place to live and the rise in tourism, the street seems to be changing character again today. Located close to popular entertainment areas like Witte de Withstraat and Schiedamse Vest, and situated along the pedestrian route towards Erasmus Bridge and Kop van Zuid, the street is sure to become a vibrant city boulevard in the future.
In 1998 the English urban designer John Worthington advised the Rotterdam city council to concentrate high-rise development in one zone, extending from Centraal Station along Weena, Coolsingel and the Erasmus Bridge to Wilhelminapier. As a result, Schiedamsedijk and the Baankwartier behind it found themselves within that high-rise zone. Not high-rise of the scale of the Maastorenflat or Leuveflat buildings, but skyscrapers of up to 150 metres in height. Because of the focus on more prominent locations and the property crisis, it would be another twenty years before work actually started on the construction of tall apartment buildings. Proposals for the 270-apartment Cooltower by V8 Architects and the slender 146-apartment Baan Tower by Powerhouse appeared in quick succession. Both buildings will be slightly taller than 150 metres and are scheduled for completion in 2020. On the site of the Maasbode will be the Family Scraper by Van Bergen Kolpa Architects, a 70-metre-tall structure with stacked family apartments. Owing to the protracted property crisis, four other architects had made a design for the Cooltower before the fifth plan got the go-ahead in 2018. An unfortunate side-effect of the delay was the deterioration of the streets behind Baan owing to their temporary occupation. In response, residents and members of the business community organized themselves into various groups, among them the working group ‘In de Ban van de Baan’.
- Baan, Rotterdam, Netherlands