Laurenskwartier, that area of the centre around the Laurenskerk, is the oldest part of the city. The dam built in the River Rotte, from which Rotterdam derives its name, was once located at the point where Hoogstraat now meets Binnenrotte. Laurenskwartier is a much more diffuse district than either Wereldhaven or Hoogkwartier, and even its boundaries are unclear. The broad traffic routes of Mariniersweg and Goudsesingel form a clear boundary along its eastern flank, and Lombardkade to the north is also a clear edge. Westewagenstraat was initially taken as the western limit, but today the Stadstimmerhuis, Minervahuis and shops along Hoogstraat are considered part of the area. The boundary to the east is located just beyond Hoogstraat. On account of its important visual connection with Vlasmarkt, the square along Hoogstraat, the Steigerkerk is also considered part of the area.
Laurenskwartier is not only less homogeneous than the other areas of the eastern city centre, it has also suffered more through renewal. Some buildings have been demolished to make way for new development. The infrastructure has also changed: the railway viaduct has been demolished and replaced by a tunnel, and Hoogstraat has been pedestrianised here.
Rather anonymous post-war reconstruction architecture was built along Meent, Lombardkade, Mariniersweg, Botersloot and Pannekoekstraat, with shops on the ground floor, apartments above, and access via service courtyards. This area is comparable to the Hoogkwartier district. Located here and there are bigger buildings containing offices or public services, among them the PTT complex, the Spaarbank, the Heuvel, the Stadstimmerhuis, and buildings for the retailers Peek & Cloppenburg, Lampe, Martens, Huf and Galeries Modernes. Laurenskwartier is not a homogeneous post-war reconstruction district but an accumulation of fragments.
Two buildings survived the bombardment: the Laurenskerk and the Erasmus Library. Initially, there were plans to leave the Laurenskerk as a ruin or to restore just the spire, but in the end the whole church was restored. Work on the restoration took from 1952 to 1968. A forecourt was created around the church and adorned with a statue of Erasmus. Architect Henk Sutterland Senior expected much of it: Laurenshof as a quiet square next to the water and closed by the west façade of the church is a highly sensitive element and will greatly please all churchgoers in Rotterdam. Rotterdam Bouwt 1946-2.
Grotekerkplein was intended as an oasis of calm, but in reality it was just empty and windswept. Openings in the development along Westewagenstraat and Hoogstraat offer views of the church. Vlasmarkt, the square located along Hoogstraat, also affords a view of both the Laurenskerk and the Steigerkerk.
Grotekerkplein, the square around the Laurenskerk, is among the least successful elements of the post-war period. In De Tijd of 16-09-1967, an English team from the Economist Intelligence Unit expressed strong criticism:
The urban designers agreed with the restoration of the big church, though they were not particularly interested in it. All their thoughts focus on their modern city. As a result, while the expensive reconstruction still continues, they have totally ruined the surroundings. Even before the war an ugly power generator had been built on the corner of the church forecourt, just beyond the railway viaduct. On one side a hotel on the redeveloped Hoogstraat has been allowed to turn its remarkably ugly rear façade against the side of the church. Built on the other side is the Reformed Administration Office, a hideous stone lump. The other buildings around the church are possibly even uglier, and although they overlook the church they are situated too close to it, and they clash with it strongly in terms of style and spirit. To the front is the church forecourt, officially called Sint Laurensplaats and earmarked for parking. A canal, one of the few left in the centre of Rotterdam, closes off the composition, but even this element in stone and concrete adds no beauty whatsoever to the scene. Behind it the view is terminated by the rear sides of buildings that front onto Westewagenstraat. According to Rotterdammers, who are fond of their big church, the city designers have killed the building.
Built in 1955, the Twaalfprovinciënhuis shopping centre stood in front of the old library on Nieuwemarkt and closed off the square to Hoogstraat. The building consisted of two six-level volumes whose floors were shifted vertically a half level from each other. Each floor bore the name of a province. Almost one kilometre of retail frontage stretched inside the building. A covered market occupied the basement, and the building also included a cinema and restaurant. Bankrupt a year after opening, the building was eventually demolished in 1996. The shopping centre on Nieuwemarkt, once seen as a counterpart to and competitor of the Lijnbaan, led a moribund existence.
Binnenrotte has been home to the weekly market since 1958.
The district between Goudsesingel and the railway viaduct is buzzing with hopeful expectation. The arrival of the market is the subject on everybody’s lips. Is that a surprise? “We’ll have an attraction, something to draw people here. Since the failure of the Twaalfprovinciënhuis, we have clearly been deprived of that,” says Mr G. van der Kaaden, spokesman for Pannekoekstraat. “We expect to belong more to the centre than we have up to now.” Not only are the shopkeepers on Pannekoekstraat happy, but their colleagues on Nieuwe Markt and Hoogstraat (especially those along the rather lifeless final stretch) even more so. They expect a significant upturn in the retail climate — a highly welcome upturn.
Het Vrĳe Volk 22-8-1958
The market is among the biggest and most popular in the Netherlands, but on days when the market was not there, Binnenrotte was very empty. The demolition of the viaduct is particular created a rather anonymous expanse of space. It was only with the construction of the City Building (2003) and the Hofdame (2007) that Binnenrotte acquired substantial enclosing walls as well as space for cafés and restaurants on the ground floor. The opening of the Market Hall in 2014 adds fresh impetus to the area.
Hoogstraat shopping street
The housing along Hoogstraat between Westewagenstraat and Binnenrotte is more adventurous than further along this street, but is less attractive owing to neglect. Neglect has also afflicted the big retail firms at the top of Hoogstraat, although some of them (Huf, Blokker) have now been refurbished. The three retail buildings at the top of Hoogstraat — Peek & Cloppenburg, Lampe and Martens (Blokker) — were all designed by architecture firm Kraaijvanger in a traditional style with the use of stone and all sorts of façade decoration. Architectural counterparts Van den Broek and Bakema designed the ultra-modern shops for Huf and Galeries Modernes. The almost fully glazed building for Huf shoes was restored in 2010.
A fragment of the piecemeal reconstruction is still visible on Hoogstraat next to Vlasmarkt. The Singer building, which for years stood forlorn on the disconsolate expanse, had to wait until 1954 for company. The rest of Hoogstraat was developed incrementally with blocks of apartments and shops on the ground floor. One building block has already been demolished to make way for the high-rise block Rotta Nova.
The idea of reconstructing one building at a time was also implemented on Pannekoekstraat, starting in 1953. The rows of traditional shops along each side were soon joined by residential blocks with shops. Taller blocks containing apartments and offices were built along the broad Mariniersweg. Likewise, Meent was completed with large blocks and service courtyards. For years Meent was a dull shopping street, but in recent times concerted efforts have caused it to undergo a metamorphosis, and today it is an ultra-hip location of choice. From the start, the area around Botersloot, Nieuwemarkt and Pannekoekstraat achieved little commercial success, with the loss of the Twaalf Provinciën building as the most distressing event. But new initiatives are appearing here too. One of the first successful examples of the reuse of a building from the reconstruction era is the Groene Passage on Mariniersweg. The successful Urban Espresso Bar started on Botersloot. Fresh impetus has also come with the redesignation of the Spaarbank and former library as buildings for education. Students can breathe life into the area, certainly if the plans to build student housing in the Laurenskwartier district are implemented.