The hall in its simplicity and, it must be said, in its careful, almost precise finishing, is a temple of energy, not without solemnity, yet also modestly cheerful and without a trace of intrusiveness or display of excessive opulence, which one encounters in various banks and buildings belonging to life assurance companies in Rotterdam. Located in the basement is a lively canteen with round ‘portholes’, and in the meeting room you can enjoy a beautiful, blank wooden wall, the latter simply for the glory of appearances.
Rein Blijstra in Het Vrĳe Volk 7-3-1953
Grand café Dudok
The renowned Dutch architect Willem Dudok was the regular architect of life assurance company De Nederlanden van 1845. The firm had previously worked with H.P. Berlage. The Rotterdam office on Beursplein, designed by Berlage, was destroyed by the bombardment, and the new office was built on the corner of Meent and Westewagenstraat. It was in use as an insurance office by what was then called Nationale Nederlanden until around 1980, after which time it was home to the city Department of Debt Relief, and after that it housed a carpet shop. In 1991 all suspended ceilings and partition walls were removed and the original office space was restored to its former glory. The first grand café in Rotterdam, appropriately called Dudok, was born.
The renowned Dutch architect Willem Dudok was the regular architect of life assurance company De Nederlanden van 1845.
New city centre
The first design by Dudok from 1941 was still extremely traditional and reflects the ideas of city architect W.G. Witteveen. The definitive design from 1949 is much more functional in character. Construction started in May 1951, and the building was festively opened on 12 December 1952. Mayor G.E. van Walsum was fulsome in his praise: With the creation of this building you have made an honourable contribution to the reconstruction of Rotterdam. We urgently need a new city centre. This building contributes to the completion of the heart of the city.
View of the Laurenskerk
The building occupies a remarkable site in the city. On the one hand it forms part of the street wall along Meent, an important street for traffic and shops created in the 1930s by connecting Jonker Fransstraat and Coolsingel. But the building is also part of Westewagenstraat, where Dudok thought a series of freestanding office buildings should be built so as to preserve views of the Laurenskerk. A lift bridge over the Delftsevaart waterway was also located on Meent, and one of the lifting towers was incorporated into the building.
Curved concrete roof
Apart from the office space on the two lower floors, the building contains four floors of dwellings in an upper volume faced in brick. The two rows of eight maisonettes (two-level flats) have their entrances on the west facade and are accessed from internal galleries behind the west facade. The east facade, which extends all the way to the water, features small balconies. Crowning the building is a gently curved concrete shell roof and a series of round windows, which are distinctive details of the post-war work of Dudok.
Crowning the building is a gently curved concrete shell roof and a series of round windows, which are distinctive details of the post-war work of Dudok.
The office space was entered from the corner of Meent and Westewagenstraat and was accessed via a monumental flight of steps. The double-height office volume was expressed on the facade by large expanses of glazing on the east and west facades. A mezzanine runs along the east and north walls. Glazed partitions separate the offices on the mezzanine from the large office space below.
The double-height office volume was expressed on the facade by large expanses of glazing on the east and west facades.
Elegant and efficient
The directors were very pleased: We think this is an elegant and efficient building. But architecture critic Rein Blijstra of Het Vrĳe Volk was less enthusiastic. He accused Dudok of abandoning functionality for the sake of aesthetics. The concrete structure is not clearly legible on the facades and the balconies in the facade along Delftsevaart do not receive enough sunlight. Moreover, he thought it was confusing that the galleries and balconies on the west facade were treated similarly, even though they differed in function. In short, Dudok sacrificed efficiency for the sake of appearances.
Nonetheless, Blijstra was ultimately very enthusiastic:
Plenty of criticism, yet still a beautiful building? Indeed, because the spaces inside and the composition of volumes outside are wonderfully in balance with each other; because you have the feeling that no stone was placed or no colour was applied before it was approved by the master; because the entire composition is an example of good taste and feeling for proportions. The gently curved roof that crowns the building so solidly, the pleasant display spaces along Meent, the elegant facades, the general sense of ease and sophistication that this building exudes, mark it as an element of refined civilisation in what is still a rather unrefined city.
Het Vrĳe Volk 7-3-1953
Since its opening in 1991, Grand Café Dudok has been a household name in Rotterdam and throughout the Netherlands. The Dudok Group also runs grand cafés in distinctive buildings in The Hague, Arnhem and Tilburg, and its famed patisserie is housed in the new Central Station. The building is a designated historical monument.