De Nederlandsche Bank, founded in 1814 by King Willem I, opened a branch in an existing building on Leuvehaven in 1865. In 1907 the bank moved into a building of its own on Boompjes, designed by J. Verheul and A. Salm, which was destroyed in the war. The safe survived, as it did in most banks, and from 1942 on clients could use a temporary building at the rear. In 1948 the Haarlem architect Henri Timo Zwiers (1900-1992) was commissioned to design a new building, with the first pile driven into the ground on 20 September 1950. Another milestone was reached on Opbouwdag (‘Construction Day’) in 1952. To mark the completion of the concrete structures for the safes of the new building, a memorial plaque was unveiled by K.P. van der Mandele. Completed in 1955, construction work took place in great secrecy behind tall fences. The Rotterdammer, accustomed to reconstruction work taking place in public as far as possible, (…), explained the situation by stating that De Nederlandsche Bank had constructed a tunnel to transport its gold safely to England in the event of another war. That was according to a news report in November 1955.
The new branch of De Nederlandsche Bank on Boompjes in Rotterdam opened today after five years of construction. And so, after fifteen years, people can again use a building that provides enough space for the various activities of the branch and even offers the possibility of being extended. The design is by Professor H.T. Zwiers. The safe of the new building can store 33 million banknotes, 2 million silver coins, 7,500 bars of gold and 4,500 bags of gold coins. Further measures will allow the capacity of the safes to be doubled. The most secure safe lies seven metres below ground.
Het Parool, 6 October 1955
Banks almost always opt for solid, traditional architecture. Zwiers was also one of the more conservative Dutch architects. He opted for a sturdy oblong building with a recessed rooftop pavilion, a ‘Palazzo on the Maas’. The front facade features a rigidly regular composition of aluminium windows set in a travertine framework. Six slender bronze columns clearly mark the entrance on Boompjes. Copper-clad pillars adorn the edge of the roof. Dark brick was chosen for the facade, to approximate as much as possible the feel of the old buildings, with their facades covered with grime from the shipping traffic. The brickwork features an ornamental motif.
Although traditional in appearance and layout, the building was otherwise highly modern, with a concrete frame of columns and beams and concrete slab floors. The concrete columns and beams were largely left exposed.
Armed porters in dark suits patrol inside the building. Tellers carry revolvers. Alarms have been installed at 12 different places around the building. The permanent security guards who patrol the building outside office hours have to pass 38 time clocks. If it takes longer than ten minutes before one of these clocks is punched, the alarm is set off. The watchman can see on a strip of paper and on a screen where the alarm is located. The bottom safe can only be accessed through the top one. Moreover, the bottom safe is submerged in underground water. So if you stand in front of the austere and dark building, you know that its heart is located deep, deep below ground, and that the whole building is designed to ensure the security of the vast reserve of banknotes and gold stored beneath Boompjes.
Het Vrĳe Volk, 5 October 1955
Revolver shooting range
The city architects dictated the scale of the building. For some time the bank stood alone here. It was not until the late 1960s that it received company from two buildings of comparable format: an office building for Pakhuismeesteren by Ernest Groosman (1963-1967) and a building for two shipping companies by Herman Bakker (1965-1969). De Nederlandsche Bank occupied a volume that was too big for its purpose. That’s why the third floor could be rented separately and, accordingly, had a separate entrance at the rear. This was occupied by the Rotterdam branch of the military police. The canteen and bank archives were located on the fourth floor. The roof-top structure housed a barracks, where a military unit could be stationed if required. Other striking features included a cellblock with courtyard on the second floor and a revolver shooting range in the basement. The building contained all sorts of staircases and lifts to properly separate the various functions from one another.
Louis van Roode has been commissioned by De Nederlandsche Bank to create a glass mosaic for the broad staircase that rises from the hall of the Boompjes building to the floors above. Van Roode has already completed a design for this mosaic, to be executed in Italian glass. Its subject is the past, present and future of the city of Rotterdam. Van Roode conveys these with decorative shapes and symbols captured in cool colours. Inspired by the subdued tone of the travertine and the artificial stone in the hall, Van Roode responded with many shades of white and grey, and contrasting black and gold.
Het Vrĳe Volk, 3 December 1954
The well-known Rotterdam artist Louis van Roode (1914-1864) made two large mosaics in the monumental entrance hall. Extremely popular at the time, Van Roode also worked on mosaics for Holbein House and for Hotel Britannia in Vlissingen. Three metres tall and seven metres wide, the mosaics flank the sides of the broad main staircase. On the left we see ‘Old Rotterdam’, with its churches and small houses. The right depicts a burning phoenix and the new Rotterdam, with the river, the modern houses and the factories. The work of art differs from the usual cliché images created for bank buildings. The rooftop pavilion even featured two copper reliefs: the Prosperity of the Country (on the east facade) and the Prosperity of the Sea (on the west facade), designed by Van Roode in collaboration with Willem Verbon (1921-2003).
From 1995 on, De Nederlandsche Bank started to close eight of its branches. The building on Boompjes was sold in 1998 and left vacant in 2000. All sorts of plans were then hatched for the building. In 1998 there was a proposal to place on top of the former bank a 200-metre-tall residential tower by the American architects Philip Johnson and Alan Ritchie. That proposal provoked loud protests. The building has enjoyed preservation status since 1991. In 2005 an office tower for Ernst & Young was constructed next door. Other proposals included a Van der Valk Hotel and another residential tower called ‘Hoog aan de Maas’. But in the end the structure was renovated by 01-10 Architects, and in 2016 a flexible office complex called De Nieuwe Boompjes opened its doors. The main entrance has been moved to the rear side, facing the city and a car park. One of the tenants is Kaan Architects, which occupies a whole floor. The ground floor does not yet house the intended public function.
In 2011 copper thieves stole parts of the artwork by Van Roode and Verbon from the east facade.