A new home for the socialist press in the new Rotterdam, designed for today and tomorrow. Bigger and more modern than every other Rotterdam newspaper office, it will grace Slaak as a monument to the gleaming ideal it serves. And it will crown so much struggle by the workers movement in Rotterdam.
Het Vrĳe Volk, 18 April 1952
Voorwaarts (Dutch for ‘onward’) was the name of a building on a street called Gedempte Slaak before the war. Built in 1907, it was designed by H.P. Berlage and housed a number of social-democratic organizations, including a daily newspaper of the same name. The building was irreparably damaged during the 1940 bombardment. Between 1952 and 1954, a new building for the Arbeiderspers publishing house was built beside the ruins, partly on the old foundations. The largest portion was occupied by Het Vrije Volk newspaper, the successor to Voorwaarts. In the 1950s this national daily enjoyed a huge circulation. A large modern printing works with a garage and two company residences were located behind the office building, which housed not only the editorial offices but also a bookshop and travel agency. The building was designed by the Friesian architect Jo Vegter (1907–1982), in collaboration with Pieter Arend Leupen (1901–1985). It is unknown why the future chief government architect received this commission. In contrast to Berlage, he was not known for his socialist views, and he initially showed little innovation in his architectural thinking. The building is typical of the early post-war period in its combination of functionalist principles, decorative use of materials and traditional design concepts.
A newspaper palace, unparalleled in the Dutch newspaper world in its architecture and function, now houses our paper. This fine facade will play a prominent role in the development of the new Oostplein. And even from afar, the building — along with countless other structures built this year — exudes the drive that has gripped Rotterdam in constructing this grand city, which attracts more and more attention every year from urban designers from all over the world.
Het Vrĳe Volk, 31 December 1954
During the war years there were plans to relocate to new premises in Spaanse Polder. ‘But nothing happened, beyond reserving a site somewhere in the barren Spaanse Polder,’ wrote a relieved Vrije Volk journalist in 1950. The editors were delighted that the urban plan for Kralingen, which initially excluded factories and workshops, was amended to allow the newspaper offices to remain close to the city centre. The printing works, with its sawtooth roof, was a striking new element in the area east of Slaak, which was earmarked almost exclusively for housing. While the office building was functional in arrangement and rational in construction, it featured many decorative elements in its facades.
Walk through the main entrance and you find yourself in a spacious hall. Here the Arbeiderspers welcomes visitors efficiently and in comfort. Visible through a large window are the shiny and spirited rotary presses, foundry machines, typesetting machines, rapid straightening press machines — in short, the entire newspaper machinery.
Het Vrĳe Volk, 18 April 952
The double-height ground floor of the office building is open in character, emphasized by its glass facade. The space contained not only the reception and public counter but also the bookshop and travel agency. The offices space on the four floors above housed the editors. The rather functional front facade features large top-hung windows set in concrete frames and a number of seemingly randomly placed balconies. The blank side facades feature decorative brickwork. A number of expressively designed elements at street level attract most attention, among them a freestanding parasol-shaped canopy and an expressive trapezium-shaped bay window with lettering and an angled canopy. Other powerful elements include the glass display cases. Next to the entrance is a bronze sculpture by Wessel Couzijn (1912–1984), depicting a ‘courier in a hurry’. This was a belated gift presented in 1959 by the Labour Party (PvdA), the Dutch Association of Trade Unions (NVV), and VARA broadcaster in South Holland, and the newspaper editors. Couzijn was chosen on the advice of museum director Pierre Jansen and writer Rein Blijstra.
I see in it a striking interpretation of what the newspaper is: the courier of the world’s news, much of which is hard. Such news sounds like a loud roar. I convey that symbolism to the workers, who once loudly roared their desire to better themselves and sided with the militant newspaper. The image of the ‘courier’ appeals to me in the same spirit.
Director Van der Waerden in Het Vrĳe Volk, 6 June 1959
Het Vrije Volk enjoyed success as a national daily in the 1960s. The building was extended in 1966 and 1971. In 1976 the newspaper relocated to the centre of Rotterdam, and in 1991 it merged with the Rotterdams Nieuwsblad to form the Rotterdams Dagblad. From 1991 to 2003 the building housed the local council offices of Kralingen-Crooswijk before becoming a snooker centre. Threatened with demolition, the building was then squatted. In the meantime, proposals for a new use for the building were considered. Various plans for apartments and homes for seniors were abandoned because they would involve too many alterations to what was now a designated municipal heritage site. In 2010 it acquired the status of national heritage site. In 2017, work started on the conversion of the Slaakhuys into a luxury boutique hotel designed by Jeroen Hoorn. The hotel will have 74 rooms, apartments and penthouses of various size. Lidl supermarket has opened a branch in the former printing works.
Address: Slaak 34
Architect: J.J.M. Vegter, P.A. Leupen
National Heritage Site