Rotterdam’s newest symbol of progress is the Euromast. Last Wednesday afternoon the first pile was driven into the muddy site for the Euromast, a 115-metre-tall observation tower which will literally form the highest point of the big international horticultural exhibition Rotterdam 1960, and then remain an object of interest in the city on the Maas after the event.
Het Vrije Volk, 11 December 1958
Plans for an observation tower in the park were first mooted in the lead-up to the E55 event held in 1955. The architects of E55, Van den Broek and Bakema, proposed a spectacular tower with four viewing platforms on Parkkade. However, that project turned out to be too ambitious in the sober 1950s. Visitors to that event had to make do with a crane that hoisted them upwards in what looked like the basket of a hot air balloon. When in 1956 preparations started for the next major public event, the 1960 Floriade, the tower idea surfaced again. The organizers thought an observation was essential, and opted for another site and another architect, Hugh Maaskant. They commissioned him in late 1957, and he presented his design in August the following year. However, the committee for the 'Proposed Rotterdam Observation Tower' could not secure financial backing from the city, though the city was willing to allocate the site on a lease. Since two-thirds of the required three million guilders (c. 14 million euros) had already been pledged by private parties, and the organization behind the Floriade had provided a guarantee, the plan went ahead. And with success, because the Eurotoren, soon called the Euromast, became a tourist attraction and symbol of the newly reconstructed Rotterdam. Even so, cutbacks meant that its dimensions were reduced by 10%.
Why a ‘mast’ fits so well here.
The first part of this name is easy to explain. ‘EURO’ comes from Europe. Aptly chosen, for Rotterdam lies in the heart of the European market region and is its main port. But the second part of the name, although simple, calls for some explanation. Architects sought to incorporate a symbol of shipping into their design, a connection between the city and port. That’s why the site of the Euromast is so distinctive.
Just as he had come up with the idea for what has become a symbol for the whole city of Rotterdam, it was again Jac. Kleiboer who, instead of the obvious addition of ‘tower’, came up with the word ‘mast’.
This word has immediate associations with shipping and boats. Moreover, research reveals that it has the same meaning in 13 languages, albeit with some minor variations in spelling, though clearly recognizable in origin.
Euromast news, 1960
Fast, modern building techniques were used because the Euromast had of course to be completed in time for the Floriade. The period available for construction was just fourteen months. The round concrete shaft, nine metres in diameter, which forms the basis for the tower was built with the help of slipform construction. As the concrete hardened, the formwork was raised at a speed of 15 to 20 centimetres an hour. The shaft was finished in 23 days. The three steel volumes attached to the shaft were prefabricated as much as possible. The asymmetrical crow’s nest was transported in sections by ship, welded together at the foot of the mast, and then hoisted into place. Job finished in 131 hours. A ship’s bridge was then attached to the shaft at a height of 30 metres. The round entrance pavilion was assembled on the ground floor.
The crow’s bridge was built by Werkspoor in Utrecht, and the ship’s bridge by Wilton-Fijenoord in Schiedam. The contractor was J.P. van Eesteren. The spectacular construction attracted many spectators, who followed developments from a special ‘public compound’. On 12 March 1959 the Algemeen Dagblad newspaper called on its readers to guess when the Euromast would reach its highest point. By sticking an extra 50 cents’ worth of stamps on their envelopes, participants would contribute to the Princess Beatrix Fund. This initiative proved a success. On 26 March, at exactly 14.59, a siren boomed across the docks to signal the end of the first phase of construction. The campaign had raised the sum of 67,000 guilders, and the winners of the four main prizes could collect their car, scooter, television set and washing machine. The Euromast opened to the public on 25 March 1960, the first day of the Floriade.
Before we started on the design of the Euromast, we took a closer look at various towers. And we noticed that the view from above about 100 metres becomes less interesting, certainly less pleasant. 100 metres is the boundary where one still has contact with the ground, can still recognize people and cars, and can still feel part of the surroundings. In the evening you feel you are still amidst the lights. But above a height of 100 metres you look over it all, into the endless distance.
H.A. Maaskant in Bouwkundig Weekblad, 1961-19
Apart from what by today’s standards is its modest height, there was another requirement. The tower had to look attractive, safe and protected in poor weather. In that same period, Maaskant was working on another large-scale leisure project, the Pier in Scheveningen. The dynamic shapes of the pavilions and viewing platform of the Pier are similar to the Euromast. Although Maaskant had in mind a timeless design and saw nothing in fashionable forms or technical showmanship, both designs are very emblematic of the belief in progress and design so typical of the early 1960s.
Two lifts whisked visitors in 25 seconds from the ground to a height of 100 metres. The shaft also contains an emergency staircase. The round pavilion on the ground houses the entrance, ticket booth and souvenir shop. Specially for the Floriade, the ship’s bridge at a height of 30 metres boasted the latest technical novelties.
Maaskant made the crow’s nest asymmetrical so that it pointed seawards. Crowning the mast was a flagpole in the shape of a stylized tulip. The crow’s nest contained two levels and panorama windows. Outdoor terraces are also on two levels. The crow’s nest offered catering of all sorts: a luxury restaurant, a family restaurant and a cheap cafeteria. The public restaurant, with views in all directions, was built as a theatre and furnished in various shades of orange. The ground floor housed a cafeteria where you could order microwave meals. The restaurant had a capacity of 300, with space for another 900 people on the terraces. Three million people visited the Floriade and Euromast in six months.
Rotterdam almost had two towers: the Euromast and the ‘space tower’, which was planned in Leuvehaven to mark the C '70 event. To the great horror of the Euromast directors who, though they would be able to operate a second tower, realized that two smaller structures didn’t add up to one bigger one. That’s when they hatched the audacious plan to link both projects.
Algemeen Handelsblad, 24 February 1970
In 1968 the Euromast lost its height record to the 114-metre tall Medical Faculty. For C '70, the last major Rotterdam exhibition, the Euromast was extended upwards with a Space Tower. The system, put on the market by the Swiss firm Willy Bühler A.G., consists of a steel shaft 2.5 metres in diameter, around which a ring-shaped cabin winds. The Euromast thus increased in height to 176 metres. The cabin can hold thirty people.
The first idea was to place the Space Tower on the ground floor, but studies revealed that the Euromast was strong enough to support this additional structure. It was also possible to secure the mast firmly. Construction of the Space Tower involved the use of a 140-metre-tall crane. The tower’s components were erected in nine days, and a crane on the Euromast facilitated its further assembly. The taller Euromast opened to the public on 5 June 1970. At 176 metres, it was once again the tallest building in Rotterdam.
Over the years the Euromast, just like the Pier, lost much of its appeal as new tourist attractions appeared all over the Netherlands. Also detrimental to the Euromast was the construction of numerous tall buildings in the city centre. No longer was the view from the Euromast all that exclusive. Even so, there are still only a few taller buildings in Rotterdam, and they are not open to the public. From 1998 on, the Euromast hit the headlines regularly because of the drastic plans by owner Mediamax. A first proposal to build around the Euromast and raise it to a height of 300 metres triggered fierce protests, and the Euromast was designated a municipal heritage site. In a follow-up plan from 2001, the Euromast would become part of a large-scale development of Parkhaven, featuring a 392-metre-tall residential tower open to the public. Little more was heard of these plans. The appearance of the Euromast is no longer under threat, and since 2010 it is also a national heritage site. Over the years the entrance and restaurant have been renovated on various occasions. The last refurbishment, by the famous furniture and interior designer Jan des Bouvrie, dates from 2004. Since then, you can spend the night in a hotel room inside the Euromast.
Architect: H.A. Maaskant
Location: Parkhaven 20
National Heritage Site