It is an incredibly powerful structure that the Casteleijn brothers have completed on Mijnsherenlaan. Nine floors of flats now tower above a row of shops. Opposite the Graansilo, the block of flats elegantly terminates the intersection of Dordtselaan and Mijnsherenlaan. It won’t be long before the new residents move in. The scale of this structure – designed by R.D. van Andel and S.J. v. Embden – is particularly striking when you look towards Brielselaan from one of the side streets.
Het Vrije Volk, 7 October 1954
Expansion Plan for Southern Bank of Maas
The residential block at the intersection of Dordtselaan and Mijnsherenlaan is part of the development of the Tarwewijk district and the final piece of development in the Bloemhof neighbourhood. Construction of these neighbourhoods had already started before the war, but some of them were only completed after the war. They were based on the 1928 Expansion Plan for the Southern Bank of the Maas by city architect Witteveen. Wide avenues, or ‘parkways’, for traffic define the borders of various parts of the plan. Just like in Blijdorp and along Rochussenstraat, both developed in the same period, bulky four-storey blocks of walk-up flats were positioned along the main traffic arteries. Many diagonals and axes created a monumental cityscape. Low-rise development was possible within the sub-areas.
Coming from the city centre, the route along Maashaven forks into Mijnsherenlaan and Dordtselaan. An ordinary four-storey block was proposed as a wedge at this intersection. In the revised plan of 1937, however, this had been changed into a landmark structure, probably a shopping centre. With the new insights put forward by Witteveen’s successors, most notably Van Traa, high-rise development was positioned at a number of points around the city, usually as urban design highlights. And this site lent itself perfectly for such a high-rise urban landmark. Other such high-rise structures include the Zuidpleinflat by Van Tijen and the block of flats on Zwartewaalstraat by Fiolet.
The complex, which consists of the slab of flats as well as two low-rise blocks, was designed by the architects S.J. van Embden and R.D. van Andel for a life assurance company, the Levensverzekeringsmaatschappij van 1845. Sam van Embden (1904-2000) had been working since August 1945 for the ASRO (Rotterdam City Planning Advisory Bureau) as assistant to Van Traa. After a short period in Bandoeng he opened his own office in 1949, working on both urban design commissions and architecture assignments. The office grew to become OD205, one of the biggest architecture firms in the country. The Rotterdam housing projects of the early post-war years were designed by Van Embden in collaboration with the less-well-known Rotterdam architect Reinier Daniel van Andel (1910-1967). Initially, Van Embden was added to his projects as a sort of aesthetic and urban design advisor. The division of roles is not completely clear; both architects worked from their individual offices, but they signed the construction drawings together. Other projects in Rotterdam included a housing scheme on Franselaan in Oud-Mathenesse, housing blocks on Dorpsweg, the development of a section of Hoogstraat and some blocks in Kralingen.
Block of flats
The two low-rise wings each contain 55 walk-up flats with three or four rooms. They are traditionally built. The tall block of flats has a concrete structure. There are eight floors with a total of forty four-room flats and, on the top floor, nine one-room flats for singles. On the ground floor are seven shops. There was also a shop at each end of the low-rise blocks. From the main entrance on Dordtselaan you access a lift and a staircase. The flats are accessed from a gallery that runs along the rear side. At the end of the gallery is a concrete escape staircase, which reads as a sculptural volume on the side facade. Positioned above the lift volume at the corner, at an angle of 45 degrees, is a cube with advertising for the client.
The first pile was driven into the ground on 26 January 1953, and the first residents arrived in February 1955. All flats came with a shower, a storage space in the basement and modern gadgets such as a house telephone to communicate if somebody rang the bell. The living room and bedroom on the front side of the flat are separated by a glass wall. The flats in the wings cost between 44 and 48 guilders per month, and those in the tall slab between 48 and 52 guilders.
The space between the two wings was initially earmarked for commercial use. This reflected the aim to fill the entire ground floor with shops. But the shops never came, and there was no interest in the commercial space, so a communal garden could be realized instead. A community building for the Reformed Church was built on the Cillershoekstraat side. Van Andel is listed as its sole designer. The Mijnsherenlaan community centre consists of a big hall for around 200 people and two smaller halls that could be used for catechism and kindergarten. It remained an active community centre with all sorts of activities for youths up to the age of twenty until well into the 1960s. In 1966 the municipalities of Mijnsherenlaan and Blankenburg merged and it was renamed the Bethlehemkerk neighbourhood centre, after the church on Bas Jungeriusstraat, which was completed that same year.
The block and the flats have remained almost unchanged. The shops on the ground floor have gone, and the entire plinth now serves as the head office of the National Programme for Rotterdam-Zuid (NPRZ). The advertisement on the roof is no longer in use. The block formed the decor for the short film ‘Giants’, about Rotterdam youths, and the film ‘Romaissa, the superhero from Rotterdam’, whose theme was the demolition of the block. An as-yet fictional story that could prove to be true in Rotterdam. The block was apparently also the inspiration for the book Pluk van de Petteflet (Two-Truck Pluck) by Annie MG Schmidt.
The shared garden was totally neglected over time, but has since been restored and is now a community garden. It contains seating areas, vegetable gardens, a small orchard, an outdoor kitchen, a play area, an amphitheatre and a pétanque terrain. It is a wonderful green oasis in this densely developed neighbourhood. The garden fence closes in the evenings. The community building has had various occupants over the years. In the 1960s it housed a kindergarten, and in 1971 the building was sold to the Foundation for Foreign Workers. Since 2016 it has been home to the Tarwewijk Culture Workshop.