The fountain has been turned on! Thousands of Rotterdammers gathered around Hofplein to witness the stunning spectacle with cheers of joy. Once the city mayor had given the signal, eleven silvery jets of water, illuminated by beams of light, shot skywards.
Hofplein appeared transformed into a modern wonderland. Silhouettes of an endless stream of cars and trams slowly slid by, standing out as dark shapes against the brightness of the fountain.
And the Rotterdammers were struck by so much dazzling beauty in the heart of their no-nonsense commercial centre. They shuffled past the spectacle, which gave Hofplein and its surroundings such a charming character.
Het Vrĳe Volk, 17 May 1955
Hofplein looks so simple. A roundabout at the intersection of four major roads: Weena, Coolsingel, Pompenburg and Schiekade. But many people had grappled with this traffic intersection before such a simple solution was built in 1952. And the definitive design of the fountain was also preceded by plenty of alternatives.
In the pre-war Rotterdam, Hofplein was a complicated intersection where fourteen wider and narrower streets, three waterways and two intersecting railway lines converged. Hofplein Railway Station was built at its north-east corner in 1909. And then there was also Delftse Poort, the only remaining city gate, lacking any function but just reminding everybody of the vanished city wall.
Various Rotterdam architects had drawn up plans for Hofplein since 1917. No fewer than 18 designs had been made before the city authorities in 1921 asked the celebrated architect H.P. Berlage to come up with a definitive design. Berlage proposed an elongated square with a 12-floor office building. But this scheme was dropped.
A decision was finally taken in 1938. The city council accepted a proposal by city architect Witteveen that would involve repositioning Delftse Poort. Fraught with risk, the operation to roll the gate to another position would cost 230,000 guilders (c. €100,000), while demolition and reconstruction would cost just 120,000 guilders (c. €54,000). The gate was carefully dismantled and rebuilt between February and May 1939. But the job was only half done when the city was bombarded in May 1940. Some of the stored components were damaged, so in 1941 a decision was taken not to complete the reconstruction and to demolish the portion standing.
The bombardment meant that many urban design bottlenecks could at last be tackled. Witteveen brought the number of converging roads back to five. He also split the later Weena into two streets, Station Boulevard and Kruiskade. He did maintain the elongated shape of the square, with a length of 450 metres, featuring a monumental building as a landmark. An entertainment centre would cover part of the square.
During the war years a public competition was held for a Palace of Industry on Hofplein, attracting designs by some 80 architects. Though the entries went on display at Museum Boijmans in May 1942, they were disappointing.
Oud also became involved in 1942. He proposed a new city hall instead of a Palace of Industry on this site. Witteveen started designing Hofplein again in 1943. In view of the functions envisaged on the square, he now contemplated an underground car park and tram tunnels.
After the war, Van Traa straightened everything out and turned Hofplein into a traffic circle that connects broad thoroughfares. Weena would become Station Boulevard and Kruiskade would remain where it was. The first sketches show a diamond shape, though this changed into a circle to facilitate the flow of traffic more easily. A column topped by a statue was initially proposed at the centre of the space.
It has been calculated that the future Hofplein will be able to function properly for traffic. (…) What will be placed at the centre of the square? Zadkine's image of the destroyed city? Or an obelisk, something like Nelson’s Column on Trafalgar Square in London? Or greenery with a fountain, which has also been proposed?
Whatever the case, that may still be a subject of discussion. Because to date a choice does not seem to have been made.
Het Vrĳe Volk, 27 June 1951
The impossibility of accessing a public space on a roundabout because of the traffic and trams forced the makers to come up with another use for the space. The result: a fountain set in an octagonal pond 31 metres in diameter, designed by municipal architect J.R.A. Koops (1902-1974). The edges are kept low to ensure unobstructed views. From the centre of the pond, eight jets of water shoot upwards, and another eight jets line the edges. Construction was made possible thanks to a gift from shipping company Phs. van Ommeren. The fountain was nicknamed the Flipspuit (‘Flip Spray’), after Philippus van Ommeren. His financial contribution meant that the fountain could also include a sculpture by the Rotterdam sculptor Cor van Kralingen (1908-1977). He made reliefs of animal figures (four fish, a toad, a sea serpent, a hippopotamus and a crocodile) about two metres long, one metre high and seventy centimetres wide. In addition, the wall of the pond features a number of small reliefs depicting scenes related to shipping. It was one of the last commissions for Van Kralingen, a traditional sculptor who opposed the modern work of the artists Zadkine and Gabo. The bronze embellishments on the fountain were made by ornamental metalworker Carl Gellings (1892-1959).
To mark its centenary in 1939, the firm Phs. van Ommeren presented the City of Rotterdam with a monument ‘in recognition of the city where it has been based since its establishment’. War prevented the plan from coming to fruition, however. But now that the reconstruction of Rotterdam is progressing at pace, the firm feels that the moment has come to renew its offer. The plan is to erect a fountain at the centre of the recently completed Hofplein. To this end, a sum of 200,000 guilders has been made available.
Algemeen Handelsblad, 31 December 1952
The discussion about the proposed work of art on this site thus seemed to have concluded. But it turned out that a design had already been drawn up for a major national Churchill monument. The well-known sculptor Hildo Krop (1884-1970) put aside his communist sympathies and designed a statue of Churchill on top of a 12-metre-tall column. But the relevant ministry rejected this proposal because, as a rule, a living individual cannot be the subject of a statue in the Netherlands.
The Destroyed City also remained on the site chosen by Zadkine. Years later, many Rotterdammers argued for its relocation to Hofplein, which would then be accorded a new function. And in 1969 there was talk of a kinetic work of art by the American sculptor George Rickey on Hofplein. The proposal for a 25-metre-tall structure with moving squares of stainless steel was thrown out for traffic engineering reasons. A modest version of the artwork was eventually erected on Binnenwegplein in 1971.
Churchill, making the victory sign, high above the big Hofplein. Four symbolic figures surround the base of the work, with in front of them a dying man, who pulls out his heart and hands it to the upright figure of a man: the new generation. In a second design, the sculptor Hildo Krop proposed placing the figures at some distance from the base of the column so that they form a larger circle.
De Telegraaf, 24 December 1953
Owing to technical difficulties and wind issues, the Hofplein fountain did not function as often as intended. Traffic continually increased, and the space was replanned in 1966. A carrousel-shaped pedestrian bridge designed by the Department of City Development in 1965, which was to have connected all corners with one another, never got beyond the drawing board. But regulated by 220 traffic lights, Hofplein can now process 11,000 cars, 14,000 bikes and 30,000 pedestrians every hour.
Hofplein acquired another function in 1970 when enthusiastic Feyenoord supporters splashed around in the water after the club’s victory in the European Cup. Today, a dip in the fountain is a frequent occurrence after victories by Feyenoord or the Dutch national team, while honking convoys of Dutch Turks have also discovered Hofplein as a place to party. Hofplein also turns into a music stage during the Rotterdam Unlimited street festival.
On 18 May 1995, a new replica of the Delftse Poort in steel was officially opened at Pompenburg as a reminder of the vanished city gate. The bright orange artwork by Cor Kraat features remnants of the original gate, which were still in storage during the rebuilding of 1939.
Major work to renew the overhead tram wires and the traffic lights are planned for 2020. That prospect has been seized upon to rethink the layout of Hofplein. Removing one lane of traffic will create space for wider sidewalks and cycle lanes. Terraces, trees and public gardens are also possible. The redesigned space will align with the renewed Coolsingel.