A most remarkable structure, separated by just the viaduct over Schiekade from the new Shell building will open tomorrow. It’s called the Keuchenius School, a building ‘on columns’, and it replaces the Prinses Beatrix School on Noorderhavenkade for reformed regular and advanced primary education. An architectural asset for the area, this striking structure is roughly twenty metres tall, and has a gymnasium at the rear. Owing to the noise from the trains passing so close to the building, the school’s windows have to remain closed. Ventilation is therefore provided mechanically. Raising the structure on columns was necessary to ensure that all classrooms enjoy sufficient daylight, despite the proximity of the Hofplein station and viaduct. The main facade of the building faces the new Heer Bokelweg, which will soon be a major artery for east-west traffic in the city.
Het Vrĳe Volk, 17 August 1960
In 1958, the Society for the Foundation and Maintenance of Schools for Reformed Advanced Primary Education in Rotterdam applied for permission to construct a new school building. Designed for a total of 151 children, the building was to consist of six theory classrooms, as well as separate rooms for physics and drawing, and a dining room. The previous school built on Zomerhofstraat in 1920 had been destroyed by the bombardment of May 1940. After that, the school was temporarily housed in a municipal building on 2e Pijnackerstraat, before relocating to Noorderhavenkade. But the school wanted to return to the Zomerhof District:
‘In order to proceed with preparations for the construction of this school building, we request that you allocate us a site, preferably in the area of Teilingerstraat, close to the location of the original school.’
In the end it wasn’t Teilingerstraat but Heer Bokelweg, number 60, that was allocated. The new school was named after the politician L.W.C. Keuchenius, an advocate of special education. A separate section in the application addressed the need to alter the post-war city plan, called the Basis Plan, because the proposed school deviated from the designated functions of ‘retail, office and commercial’ in the Zomerhof District. Moreover, the building was planned on land that was not all earmarked for building development.
Building on columns
Designed in 1958, the school building on columns featured an almost totally open plinth that was detailed as a sunken play zone. Architect Harry Kammer was clearly influenced by the work of Le Corbusier. After studying architecture at the Technical College in Delft, Kammer (1902-1988) worked for Brinkman & Van der Vlugt before opening his own architecture office in 1933. He began to work with the Rotterdam Society for Technical Schools in 1953, and this collaboration resulted in a series of school buildings in and around Rotterdam. In 1962 he and a number of other architects who were active in the same area, among them J.P.L. Hendriks and R.H. Fledderus, set up the Working Group for Technical Schools, which later became a partnership.
The playground is about 1.25 metres below street level and partly roofed. Located on this level are the entrances and spaces for bicycles, central-heating boiler and gymnasium. The playground is lowered so that it is more clearly bordered and safer, and thus more clearly separated from the very busy surrounding roads.
Keeping part of the ground floor open allows the playground to be partly roofed and allows for better views of the traffic. In addition, classrooms are raised above the traffic zone, while the effect of the tall structure of Hofplein Station (c. 11 metres) and the proposed elevated Rotte Tracé (c. 6 metres) on the amount of sunshine entering the classrooms will be reduced.
Description by architect Harry Kammer, January 1957
Glass mosaic tiles
The facade along Heer Bokelweg where the corridors run consists of wide strips faced in glass mosaic tiles that alternate with rectangular strip windows with steel mullions and wooden frames. Placed in front is a ramp and a side stairs to reach the raised entrance, which is sheltered by a portico. The south facade to the classrooms is a curtain wall with windows and top-lights with panels of black glass. From the entrance, the stairs provides access to the other classrooms and the gymnasium at the rear. The entrance hall and gym were placed on the ground floor along with functional spaces such as the boiler room, storage spaces and vestibule. The gym spaces are housed in a separate volume placed perpendicular to the main volume.
Architect Kammer experimented with external aluminium sun blinds manufactured by Bingham & Co. This wasn’t without a struggle; the school board complained so much about the rattling of the blinds that the public works department and Kammer came along to assess the situation.
‘In the meantime, one stormy day when it was sunny (a rarity in our country), the architect was asked to inspect the building. During the visit it turned out that the school director had lowered the exterior blinds (at wind force 8) and now complained about the noise caused by the rattling of the blinds. The architect considered this a ridiculous situation, and rightly so in my view. In such weather conditions it is logical not to leave any moving components on the exterior at the mercy of the wind. The school head, however, was of the view that operating such equipment was too challenging a task for him and the teaching staff.’
Despite objections from the director, a manually operated wind mechanism was installed.
In 1968 the building was enlarged with six classrooms owing to the rising numbers of pupils and the closure of a primary school on Bergsingel. The rooms were housed in a new wing on the Raampoortstraat side. The facades of the new volume, which had its own entrance, blend seamlessly with the original building. The blind side facades were finished in brickwork and the lower and ground floors contained no openings. Although the same materials were used (brick, glass mosaic), there is still a slight difference between the old and new volumes.
In its current state, the building volume is somewhat eclipsed by the scale of surrounding structures and buildings such as the Technikon complex, the Shell buildings and the railway viaducts. The school building is occupied by a vocational college and a healthcare organization. In 2013 the Rotterdam artist Ozon adorned the blind facade to Schiekade with a large mural of a crumpled washbasin. The mural replaced an earlier painting.