Two residential buildings similar in size are located next to each other on Groenendaal. One is faced in brick, is topped by a pitched roof and is traditional in composition. The other is built of concrete, glass and steel and is characterised by horizontal lines. The two illustrate well the confrontation between two styles of architecture that dominated the post-war period in the Netherlands: the traditionalist Delft School and the functionalist Nieuwe Bouwen. Pax, a residential complex built for the St. Willebrordus catholic insurance company, was designed by the Rotterdam architecture firm Hendriks, Van der Sluys and Van den Bosch, known for their Catholic churches and hospitals. And the adjoining residential block, built for a firm of contractors, was designed by Hugh Maaskant, one of the best-known modern architects in Rotterdam.
Attempts at reconciliation
Despite attempts at reconciliation during the wartime occupation and the consensus to rebuild the country, these two movements in architecture diametrically opposed each other soon after the war. Many commissions for banks and large retail companies initially went to traditionalist architects. But the huge volume of construction work and the new programmes simply couldn’t be tackled without industrialised construction or without modern materials such as concrete and steel. In the 1950s most traditionally oriented architects gradually shifted towards modernism.
Many commissions for banks and large retail companies initially went to traditionalist architects.
Sturdy residential building
The ‘sturdy’ residential building by Hendriks is traditional in composition. The lower section, containing spacious showrooms, is faced in travertine, while the upper residential floors are faced in red brick, and an ornamental cornice with small ‘portholes’ beneath a pitched roof extends along the top edge of the facade. Storage spaces for the dwellings are located on the attic level. The apartments are located symmetrically on both sides of a stairwell, which is adorned with decorative stone elements. A stylised ribbon above the stairwell bears the name Pax. Two lower volumes with three floors extend along the side streets. To the east of the block is a slightly taller office building in the same style.
A stylised ribbon above the stairwell bears the name Pax.
But in some ways the building is not very traditional. Behind the brickwork and stone components lies a modern concrete skeleton. Floors are also made of concrete, and hardly any wood has been used. Instead, the doors and windows are set in steel frames with stone surrounds. The dwellings are comfortable and enjoy plenty of light and air. Moreover, they are centrally heated and are accessed by lifts: Residents need not worry about running out of breath from climbing stairs, for every apartment can be reached by a lift. The first pile was driven into the ground on 12 May 1947. Demand for the apartments, as well as the retail and office space, was high. The 64 homes were allocated to ‘individuals who are essential to industry and shipping in Rotterdam’. Storage space for the shops and commercial units was located along the service street.
The residential building by Maaskant is horizontal in character and abstract in its architecture. Although the facade is partly made of brick, the concrete skeleton is visible in the white bands of concrete. In addition, as much glass as possible has been incorporated into the facade. A sunny building with glazed balconies and modern sunscreens, which also add a decorative touch to the exterior. The apartments are accessed from galleries at the rear. Situated in the centre is a lift and stairwell. The top residential floor, the sixth, is set slightly back and contains two-room apartments. The other floors contain three- and four-room apartments. Located on the ground floor are shops, with a deep canopy extending over the footpath. The ground floor also contains storage units for the shops and garages, accessible from the service street.
A novelty was the Bomo-Emmer lift: Now the housewife only has to put her waste bucket into the bucket lift, and the concierge takes it out down below, empties it, and after a while the resident can take her bucket back out of the lift.
“It contains 80 flats, 19 shops and 15 garages for cars. Both inside and outside, the finishing will be luxurious, something of a rarity in housing construction these days. The cost of the flats will therefore probably be above 100 guilders, since the flats will be fitted to a high standard. They will include a bathroom with a shower, probably parquet floors, linoleum and a Bruynzeel kitchen. Spacious balconies are designed on the front and rear sides.
The striking facade will feature white-glazed stone and dark glass, two materials that will ensure a strong contrast. Of note will be the reflective grilles protruding from above the big windows to the living rooms, which reduce light penetration and are a necessary addition because the front facade faces due south.”
Het Vrĳe Volk 13 June 1953
Who has the courage to build that?
A striking difference between the two blocks is the design of the balconies. The Maaskant block features spacious balconies to the south, optimally oriented to the sun and fitted with glazed windscreens that also enhance privacy. The Hendriks block features small balconies at the rear that receive little sunlight and are best used for drying clothes.
In the magazine De Maasstad, contractor Willemsen looks back at the project: Given a chance to acquire an undeveloped site on Groenendaal right beside an already completed apartment block, he looked at that site and thought: What is needed here is something that we haven’t yet seen in Rotterdam. Something that makes people say: ‘Who designed something like that, and who had the courage to build it?’ With this idea he sought a design from the H. Maaskant, the celebrated architect of the Groothandelsgebouw, and he came up with a sketch design that pleased Mr Willemsen so much that this structure became his favourite one of all.
Both buildings have aged well. The retail space beneath the Maaskant block is occupied entirely by Albert Heijn. The building is a designated municipal monument. The residential building by Hendriks is well maintained, but fitted with plastic window frames. Shops and restaurants occupy the ground floor. The office building is still in use.