On 18 May 1940, a few days after the bombardment that transformed the centre of Rotterdam into a smouldering heap of rubble, the city council decided on the initiative of the then alderman for Public Works Johan Brautigam to commission engineer Witteveen to draw up plans to rebuild the city. This bold decision, evidence of an unshaken belief in the future of our city, is too valuable to sink into oblivion. That is why 18 May will be commemorated every year from now on. It goes without saying that this commemoration will be linked in the coming years to progress made in the area of reconstruction. This year, therefore, we are told, a big exhibition of the reconstruction plans, updated right up to the last day, will be held at Museum Boymans.
Het Vrĳe Volk 5-2-1947
An annual Construction Day was held in Rotterdam every year starting in 1947. The symbolic day chosen was 18 May, the date on which city architect Witteveen received the commission for his Reconstruction Plan. One could say that was the moment that reconstruction started, when the preparatory work had to be done: in the study and on the drawing board. It was a festive day. The reconstruction of the city was celebrated, and it was thus no commemoration of the bombardment and the destruction of the city. The initiative came from Mayor Pieter Oud and chairman of the Chamber of Commerce Karel Paul van der Mandele.
The symbolic day chosen was 18 May, the date on which city architect Witteveen received the commission for his Reconstruction Plan.
A host of activities took place on Construction Day (‘Opbouwdag’). Usually, a number of first sheetpiles were rammed into the ground, monuments were unveiled, an exhibition was opened, lectures and concerts were held, and a publication was presented. On some occasions a member of the royal family would visit the city for a ceremony. If 18 May fell on a Sunday, festivities were held on another date.
17 May 1947: the first Construction Day
The first Construction Day was held on Saturday 17 May, 1947. The first piece of scaffold was erected around the remnants of the spire of the Laurenskerk, the first pile for the industrial complex on Goudsesingel and of the Groothandelsgebouw entered the ground, the five-hundredth home in the Carnisse district was completed, and the exhibition Rotterdam in the Near Future opened at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen.
Later years produced various highlights: the opening of the Building Centre in 1949, Central Station in 1957, the Doelen in 1966. The first helicopters landed on the Heliport at Pompenburg in 1953.
Anybody who was in Rotterdam in 1953 can later say to his children or grandchildren: “l saw Hoogstraat being built”, and “I saw Meent spring up”, and “I saw how Korte Hoogstraat rose out of the ground….”
It would then occur to him that Binnenweg was completed in 1953, that the full length of Westewagenstraat was rebuilt, that the Lijnbaan was finished. It would set his head spinning again. For if on Construction Day 1953 you had the idea to list everything completed or under construction in Rotterdam over the past half year, you’d be at it till after dark.
Het Vrije Volk 18-5-1953
C70: Reconstruction complete
The last Construction Day was held in 1970. Reconstruction was at last finished, but praise began to make way for criticism. The new city was deemed functional and charmless. A first attempt to make the centre more convivial came with the event C70. Since 1976, a City Centre Day (‘Binnenstadsdag’) was held every year around this date. The ‘construction atmosphere’ was replaced by entertainment. Occasionally, activities are still held around this date, such as the opening of the Nieuwe Delftse Poort on 22 May 1992. Plans have been mooted to restore Construction Day.
Revival Construction Day
Renewed attention for the reconstructie raised in 2016, 75 years after the first reconstructie activities. The festival Rotterdam viert de Stad! organized activities during the year, including Construction Day. Since then Construction Day is developing into a day of importance for Rotterdam, its inhabitants and visitors.