Central District as the name for the area between Weena and the railway tracks was only introduced after the emergence of the major redevelopment plans for Centraal Station and its immediate surroundings around the turn of the millennium. Prior to that, the area had no name of its own as such, although it was often referred to as ‘Weenagebied’ or ‘CS-kwartier’. The Central District extends from the Staten Tunnel in the west to the Shell complex in the east, also taking in the area around the Bouwcentrum (Building Centre) on the other side of Weena. Much of this area remained undeveloped during the post-war reconstruction years. Starting in the late 1940s, commercial and office structures started to appear in the area between Delftsestraat and Schiestraat. On the other side of Stationsplein, or station forecourt, the Groothandelsgebouw (multi-company building) was completed in 1953. The first circular volume of the Bouwcentrum was finished in 1949, with extensions following in 1956, 1965 and 1970. In 1957 the Centraal Station, designed by Sybold van Ravesteyn, and the Railway Post Office, designed by the Kraaijvangers, were finished, and the Shell Building was built at Hofplein.
It looks likely that the pile drivers will soon start operating on the construction of a number of commercial buildings on the site bounded by Delftsestraat, Schiekade, Stationsplein and the railway tracks. (…) The first firm to reserve land on Delftsestraat and to finalize its plans is Esveha. (…) Other firms to reserve land on this site are Van der Meer’s Furniture Factory, Torek’s Pram Factory, the firm Nijgh & Van Ditmar, Hofman & Vis Clock Wholesalers, Terlouw’s Car Garages, De Vries Trade Printers and heating firm H. Buuren & Sons.
Rotterdamsch Nieuwsblad, 17 November 1948
The block between Delftsestraat and Schiestraat was completed in 1960. This block is usually called Schiekadeblok now to prevent confusion with the Schieblock, which is just the corner building on Schiekade. Schiekadeblok consists of individual commercial and office buildings designed by various architects. A basic four-metre grid dimension determined the site division, with buildings varying in width from 12 to 28 metres. Corner buildings could differ in order to create architectural emphasis. The height was prescribed, and a supervisor had to ensure architectural unity and cohesion.
The first completed building, for Esveha, was designed by J.J.P. Oud. To the east of it is an office building designed by Hendriks, Van der Sluys, Van den Bosch, and on the corner a remarkably expressive office building with conference centre by Hugh Maaskant. To the east of Esveha were Metro Hotel by architecture firm Hooijkaas & Van Veen, office buildings by the architects Sitters and Fiolet, and the Freemason Building by Vermeer & Van Herwaarden. A hefty building for Nillmij life assurance company, designed by father and son Verschoor, terminated the block on Schiekade. Architecture firms Lengkeek & Hoogenstraaten and Hendriks, Van der Sluys, Van den Bosch also designed buildings on Delftseplein. The development on Schiestraat was demolished in the 1980s. A small service street within the building block gave access to just four buildings. In terms of function and architecture, the buildings display a reasonable degree of variation.
Although the architectural quality of the individual structures varies significantly, with a few highlights such as the Esveha Building by J.J.P. Oud and the Boekman Building by Hugh Maaskant, the facades showcase the typical range of Rotterdam post-war architecture. No single style dominates. Instead, there is space for various ideas.
Wijnand Galema, Cultural-historical study of Schiekadeblok & Rotterdam Central District
The Shell Building was also finished in 1957. Columns at ground floor level allowed for a direct connection from Centraal Station to Station Hofplein. The wide roads to Hofplein soon made this connection impossible, however. Centraal Station and the Railway Post Office abutted the railway tracks. Tram stops filled the forecourt in front of the station. Originally located in front of the Railway Post Office, the bus station was relocated behind the Groothandelsgebouw in the 1980s.
City Mayor Gerard van Walsum on Wednesday drove the first pile into the ground for the Metro Hotel on Delftsestraat in Rotterdam, which will be built and operated by the Rotterdam branch of the National Christian Society of Teetotallers. The work of the society in the city dates back to the last century. It was considerably disrupted by the 1940 bombardment, when the ‘Temperance Home’ on Oppert was lost. The Metro Hotel rekindles this tradition.
Gereformeerd Gezinsblad, 8 April 1961
Apart from office buildings, Delftsestraat contained some remarkable establishments, among them Freemason Building and Metro Hotel. Intended for teetotallers, the hotel at number 21-23, containing twelve double and seventeen single rooms, closed in 1970. The freemasons also had a building on Oppert before the bombardment. In 1955 they moved into the new building at Delftsestraat 9. It contained a temple on the ground floor and five meeting rooms above. The roof features a compass and square, symbols of the fraternity. It wasn’t until 2008 that the freemasons moved to the former ecumenical centre on Oostmaslaan (Podium 0950), another building from the post-war period. A precursor to the restaurant scene that has emerged in the area in recent years was the Radio Rijnmond Café, housed in the Metro building from 1983 to 1992.
Construction of the metro line beneath Weena caused building development to slow down around 1960. The northern side of Weena remained unbuilt for years. When the metro was completed in 1968, a park was created here and called ‘Worstbos’, in honour of the former alderman Jan Worst. This small park, which contained some pavilions erected temporarily for the C70 event and converted into a social centre, survived until the early 1980s. The south side of Weena remained unbuilt until far into the 1960s, when the Hilton Hotel and the Weena building appeared. Up until the 1970s, the area behind De Doelen contained a deer park. Owing to the lack of development, the wide Weena acquired a negative reputation as a speedway through the city. Although the buildings on Delftsestraat were close to the centre, they were completely isolated. A pedestrian tunnel at the end of the Lijnbaan shopping centre offered little comfort and was eventually blocked off.
The incomplete urban situation on Weena began to change rapidly in the 1980s. As part of a wave of urban renewal, the tract of land to the west of the Groothandelsgebouw was developed with the Weenahof, containing a covered ice rink. Often described as the ‘ugliest building in Rotterdam’, it matches the Groothandelsgebouw in size and scale.
An ideas competition held in 1977 for the strip of park above the metro attracted entries from a youthful Jo Coenen and Cornelis van de Ven, but it produced no concrete proposals that could be elaborated. It did, however, provide some impetus. In 1978 the City Development Department proposed the Weena-Tivoli project, with an entertainment centre in a park modelled on Tivoli in Copenhagen. In 1979 the city council decided to locate entertainment facilities elsewhere and to develop Weena with housing and recreational facilities according to a Boulevard model.
Plans to develop the eastern section of Weena were finalized in the early 1980s. The north side above the metro and the wide stretch along the south side were built. First completed was a residential building in 1984 by Cees Dam on the corner of Hofplein. It was soon followed by office buildings for Unilever and Nationale Nederlanden. The Schiekadeblok found itself relegated to the second row. An additional row of office buildings also filled the south side of Weena, reducing the width of the street profile.
All these new office buildings did little to enliven Weena. However, they did create a city boulevard of metropolitan appeal, but there was little to offer pedestrians. The intended public functions at ground level scarcely materialized. Just 600 of the planned 1220 homes were built. Perron Nul, a gathering spot for drug addicts beside the station, caused great inconvenience in the area until 1994.
The arrival of the High-Speed Railway (HSL) provided the incentive to revamp the station and surroundings. The Groothandelsgebouw had escaped earlier bouts of modernization with shiny facades and, just like the Railway Post Office, was earmarked as a potential post-war reconstruction monument. The Groothandelsgebouw was restored and the Railway Post Office acquired a second life as a multi-tenant building called Central Post. Centraal Station was not listed as a monument with preservation status because it was earmarked for demolition to make way for a state-of-the-art station.
In 1997 the renewal of the station and its immediate surroundings was promoted as a key project of national importance. The density of development around the proposed transport interchange would increase with a mixture of urban functions: living, working and urban entertainment. The ambitious master plan from 2001, drawn up by the British architect Will Alsop, became known as the ‘Champagne Glasses’ because of the voluptuously shaped structures on the station forecourt. The plan extended from the Groothandelsgebouw to beyond the Shell Building and across Kruisplein. The building block on Delftsestraat would disappear. Office towers over 200 metres in height were planned next to the Shell building. These megalomaniac plans were developed at a time when money seemed to grow on trees. But the stormy rise of Pim Fortuyn and his Leefbaar Rotterdam party derailed the plans. As a gesture of goodwill, Alsop was invited to design the Calypso complex on Westersingel.
Rotterdam Central District
In 2010, the city revived the project with a number of developers. The railway station, designed by a consortium of collaborating top designers (Benthem Crouwel, Adriaan Geuze of West 8, and Meyer & Van Schooten) operating under the name Team CS, was already under construction. The Schiekadeblok would again have to make way for a mixture of functions, where ‘business, living, working, leisure and socializing come together’. Some 240,000 square metres of high-rise development, mostly offices. But the property crisis meant that this scheme from developer LSI also bit the dust. Even the favourable financial construction with the city, a notorious land lease deal, flopped. It ultimately led to a controversial report from the National Auditor’s Office and the downfall of Alderman Adriaan Visser in 2019.
In the meantime, Schiekadeblok had undergone a thorough metamorphosis. Young creative entrepreneurs and new cafés such as Niergarten and Annabel began to fill the derelict office buildings earmarked for demolition. These temporary functions brought a new mood of dynamism to the area, turning it into a popular entertainment area for young people. Design office ZUS renamed the Nillmij building the Schieblock and remodelled it as a creative hub with pop-up activities and the DakAkker, an urban farm on the roof of the building. The service street and an existing fire lane were transformed into a new route through the block that connected with the Luchtsingel raised walkway and bridge. Financed through crowdfunding and by a municipal instrument called the Stadsinitiatief, this bridge across Schiekade connected with Hofbogen.
This initiative from ZUS has breathed new life into a forgotten and abandoned piece of city, placing the distinctive post-war reconstruction architecture in a new light.
In December 2018, the city presented new plans for the area. They included four residential towers with 60,000 square metres of space and 350 to 400 apartments. A large number of post-war structures are to be preserved, and the cafés in the area are also retained. To be continued.
A series of extensions to the Bouwcentrum quickly filled the area around this institute. The manner in which the new volumes clash with the existing buildings of the Oude Westen district is not very subtle, especially the large car park on Diergaardesingel. The residential building for youths on Kruisplein (1981-1985), the first project by architecture firm Mecanoo, went some way to improving the transition from the post-war area to the nineteenth-century district. A jump in scale was introduced with the 2012 demolition of the first extension to the Bouwcentrum and its replacement with the First Rotterdam office tower by Branimir Medić and Pero Puljiz of Architekten Cie. The second extension to the Bouwcentrum is set to be replaced by The Modernist, a 13,500 square metre office volume and two residential towers designed by MVRDV.