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Concrete trucks constantly coming and going. That’s how much building was going on

With her father working as a director at Befaro, the Rotterdam concrete factory, the young Irene Smit listened to tales of reconstruction work at dinnertime in her new apartment.

Concrete trucks constantly coming and going. That’s how much building was going on

Moving in with another family was normal

She was born just after the war and, looking forward to their freedom, her parents named her Irene, goddess of peace. The name Irene was never more popular than in 1945-46. Her father was a company director at Van Nelle. Not a bad job, yet the Smit family lived with her grandparents on Statensingel. “We lived there with lots of other people. The housing shortage after the war was very severe. My grandmother loved the company. I was her first grandchild, so I got plenty of attention. My mother, by contrast, found it very difficult. Bringing up a child in your own way was almost impossible with so many other people around.”

A new post-war reconstruction apartment!

They lived with her grandparents until 1950. Then at last they got a flat of their own, newly built on Hekbootstraat in the Oud Mathenesse district. She doesn’t know if it was because of this post-war flat, but a memorable saying of her father’s was that ‘all architects should be condemned to live in their own houses for a period!’ She also remembers that another family moved in with them: the Lavermans. They lived on the Haringvliet site where the new Rotterdam Concrete Factory (Befaro) was built. The catastrophic storm of 1953 flooded the whole area, including the Laverman’s home. Her father, who had just become a director of Befaro, took the family temporarily into his home. “And I moved in with the neighbours, because two families sharing 50m2 was pretty cramped. I was just six. That’s how things went back then.”

Rotterdam concrete trucks

The stories started the moment her father became a director of Befaro. He was a good storyteller. And clearly there was plenty to be told. “There was so much construction work that the trucks carrying concrete were coming and going constantly. They were striped green-white-green in the colours of the flag of Rotterdam. What was also exciting were the cement mixers with revolving containers that kept getting bigger and bigger.”

Stories from father

“Every evening at the dinner table, my father talked about the events of the day. Not only things that went well, but also all the mistakes.” Irene has a twinkle in her eye, for many of those stories weren’t intended for her ears, but that made them all the more interesting. Her father told stories about ‘cowboy’ contractors and the increasing safety regulations to which people didn’t pay too much attention. She recalls a construction accident that made a deep impression on her. “A construction worker had fallen and lost his life. Dead. He wasn’t wearing his safety belts, so they quickly tied them around him. Or else his wife wouldn’t have received any compensation.”

The big Befaro projects

She has with her a list of big projects in which her father was involved: the Bijenkorf department store (1957), the construction of the first metro (1961-1968), the Doelen concert hall (1962-1966) and the Van Brienenoord Bridge (1965). And some incident occurred with each of these projects. “Around the time of Queen Juliana’s visit to see the metro under construction, the formwork around a column had just collapsed. It was solved in the nick of time without incident, luckily. A technical problem also arose during the construction of the Doelen, and her father was very proud that it was he who came up with the solution in the end.” Sometimes her mother was allowed to join an excursion to a construction site, such as the work on the columns that support the ‘Brienenoord’, but she had to make do with the stories.

Shopping on the Lijnbaan

If she couldn’t visit building sites, Irene certainly could visit the brand-new Lijnbaan. ‘I went there very often as a teenager. Had a drink at Tearoom Scheffers, bought clothing at Meddens, my first bra at Coppers. Yes, all those places are gone now. The only one still open is Heetman, the jewellery shop.’ She laughs when she thinks about the reconstruction work and the constant sound of activity. ‘In that sense, nothing has changed. Rotterdam is still building.’
The story of
Irene Smit