Construction Day in Rotterdam is, above all, a celebration for the Doelen. That is beyond dispute. But, it should not be forgotten that this imposing concert and congress building brings the city centre another step closer to its completion. Gradually, the major final pieces still to be realised can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
Het Vrije Volk 18-5-1966
By the end of the 1960s the reconstruction of the centre of Rotterdam seemed complete. No exact moment can be pinpointed, but some events do stand out. For example, the day the metro was put into operation, on 10 February 1968. Or 14 December 1968, the day the restoration of the Laurenskerk was completed. Or the reception for Feyenoord on Coolsingel on 7 May 1970, with over two hundred thousand supporters, a celebration on a scale comparable with the liberation. But there is also a lot to be said for the opening of the Doelen on 18 May 1966, Construction Day. The pinnacle of the first twenty years of post-war reconstruction.
By the end of the 1960s the reconstruction of the centre of Rotterdam seemed complete.
But during this period the first hairline cracks also started to appear in the wave of reconstruction optimism. In 1965 the sociologist Professor Wentholt published The Perception of the City Centre and Rotterdam in which he wrote that: “The modern architecture here is terrible; the city is inhospitable, monotonous, orthogonal; the city is fragmented by the construction of traffic arteries; convivial life has vanished.” On the eve of Construction Day, a critical documentary called City without a Heart by Jan Schaper aired on television. The response to the Doelen from the architecture community was largely negative, for example by the compilers of an Architecture Map of Rotterdam in 1969. The Rotterdam Doelen is a neoclassical marble lump, pathetically provincial. Architecture students Rein Geurtsen and Jean Piret had omitted the building from their map. People will find the building anyway, and it is of absolutely no architectural merit. Therefore we have not included it on the Rotterdam architecture list. Het Vrije Volk 19-12-1969. Architecture critics had a lot of difficulty with the decorative stone façade set in front of the glass and aluminium façade, all the more so because it suggested more floors than there actually were. Moreover, the composition of this false façade was not structurally responsible. Only later did the interior, one continuous space in which the halls are suspended like boxes, receive the recognition it deserved. Even so, the building was immediately embraced by music-loving circles in Rotterdam.
The first pile was driven into the ground on 9 July 1962, but a concert hall to replace the Doelen Hall on Coolsingel, destroyed in the bombing, had been discussed and studied ever since 1940. The first plan was for something akin to the Rockefeller Centre complex, but that proved too ambitious. In 1955 the brothers Evert and Herman Kraaijvanger, along with Rein Fledderus, were invited to design a music and congress centre featuring a big hall with 2500 seats and a small hall with 600 seats. Music lover Herman Kraaijvanger was involved in the planning right from the start. The big hall was famed for its good acoustics right from the start, and they are even better since the renovation.
The first plan was for something akin to the Rockefeller Centre complex, but that proved too ambitious.
Years of making plans have now concluded, and this evening the Doelen will shine in full splendour in what will hopefully be an illuminated city centre. I expect the inhabitants of Rotterdam and surroundings will find their way to this building to attend concerts and other events. After 26 years we have at last a real concert hall and our city is also a wonderful congress building richer. I am certain that Rotterdammers will soon get used to this new cultural centre and be proud of it. Just as many parties were held in the garden of the old Doelen, I expect that the festive heart of the new Rotterdam will beat in and around the new Doelen. Those are the words of alderwoman Nancy Zeelenberg.
Het Vrije Volk 18-5-1966
The building of the Doelen concert and congress centre also marked the completion of Schouwburgplein (Theatre Square). In 1947 the emergency theatre opened, to a design by father and son Sutterland, built with bricks chipped out of the rubble left by the bombardment. Beneath the new square was a car park, which was also ready in May 1966. Some eight hundred cars could park out of sight on two levels, and initially there was a direct connection between the garage and the Doelen.
Over the years the building and surroundings changed significantly. In 2000 the Doelen was extended on the Kruisplein side with a new congress wing and the College of Music and Drama. The emergency theatre was demolished in 1984 and replaced by a new building. Schouwburgplein was redesigned in 1997 and enhanced with a cinema complex. In 2013 the much-criticised Doelen complex was nominated as a national historic building. Doelen was enlarged on the side to Kruisplein with a new congress wing and the School of Music and Dance. Once criticised by the architecture world, the Doelen complex was nominated as a national historic building in 2013.