I’m madly in love with a street called the Lijnbaan
When the sun starts to shine
Her flowers look so fine,
And her budgies in cages they make me a fan
My, my, my, the Lijnbaan
My my, my, the Lijnbaan
In 1968 the Rotterdam cabaret artist Dorus (Tom Manders) sang a song in praise of the Lijnbaan to the melody of the Tom Jones hit Delilah. Right from the opening on 9 October 1953, the new shopping precinct formed the centre of the rebuilt city. In the post-war years the Lijnbaan marked a revolution in urban design. Instead of shops with housing above along both sides of a street of traffic, such as Hoogstraat, the Lijnbaan shops lined pedestrian promenades. Shops were stocked from service streets at the rear, while separate high-rise blocks contained apartments. Since every Dutch suburb built in the 1960s boasted its own traffic-free shopping core, the original no longer seems that remarkable. Yet many people view the Lijnbaan as the innovative highlight of post-war reconstruction in Rotterdam.
It was but an ordinary thump, and nobody in the city centre will have paid it much attention. And yet that bang that drove the first pile into the ground between what used to be Lijnbaanstraat and Coolsingel signalled a remarkable beginning. For that pile is the first of 750 piles that will support the new shopping zone, consisting of 66 shops. It is the largest complex to date erected as one entity in the new city. Mr E. Liffmann, board member of the shopping development trust, commented: ‘This major work will get the heart of Rotterdam beating powerfully again.’
Het Vrije Volk, 19 July 1952
The development of the Lijnbaan did not proceed as smoothly as this newspaper report suggests. While the very first post-war reconstruction plans did include a new shopping zone to the west of the old centre, only gradually did it acquire its remarkable layout. Although the first plan did propose service courts, based on an idea by Witteveen, it consisted of standard building blocks along ordinary streets, with shops below and housing above. The proposed shopping zone was intended for those shops located on Noordblaak before the war. They wanted to be grouped together in one place again. Those shopkeepers had good experiences with the emergency shopping complex on Jongkindstraat. Moreover, they were positive about sharing a multi-tenant building. This meant that shopkeepers who had lost their own premises in the bombardment were interested in opening a shop in a shared shopping complex.
Nobody knows exactly whether it was the urban designers at the Advisory Bureau for the Rotterdam City Plan (ASRO) or the architects at Van den Broek and Bakema who came up with the scheme in the end. In the 1946 brochure Building volumes in the city centre, Van den Broek had presented a number of alternatives for retail streets, and one of those was the concept for the Lijnbaan.
In its form elaborated by architecture firm Van den Broek & Bakema, the revolutionary yet now very commonplace layout received a cold reception from the 66 associated shopkeepers. But a detailed model at scale 1:100 turned their initial scepticism into enthusiasm.
Hundreds of curious Rotterdammers walked over the Lijnbaan yesterday evening without even seeing a shop. They were the unlucky ones who, admitted in groups of ten by the police, found themselves caught up in a flow of people and had to endure being swept along, step by step, by the crowds until they ended up at the other end of the Lijnbaan. It was unbelievably busy. Is there anybody still unsure about the level of interest in the new city? The whole centre is benefitting from the great interest. But the Lijnbaan certainly forms the focus, the main attraction.
Het Vrije Volk, 10 October 1953
The pre-war Hoogstraat was 9 metres wide with a traffic lane down the middle; the new Lijnbaan was 12 to 18 metres wide and pedestrian only. The absence of housing above meant that the development is relatively low-rise, and the shopping centre is more horizontal in character. That effect is enhanced by the roofs that extend out from the shops and offer shelter from the sun and rain. These roofs cross the street at intersections and entrances to the shopping zone. They are absent on one side of Korte Lijnbaan so as to preserve views of the city hall. Great care was devoted to the furnishing of the outdoor space, which featured plants, sculptures, freestanding display windows and, initially, aviaries.
Have you ‘Lijnbaaned’ yet?
The design principle for the shops was flexibility in layout and uniform, neutral architecture. There were two basic shop types: standard and entresol. The standard type had two retail levels. The entresol type had two levels at the front and three at the rear in a split-level arrangement. All sorts of variations were possible with the use of the basement level.
The whole scheme was based on a dimensioning system of 1.1 metres lengthways and 1 metre crossways. The same 1.1 metre module determined the outdoor surface. Facades were composed of prefabricated concrete posts and parapets. Large glazed sections and display windows dominated the ground floor. The facades above were neutral and unremarkable. The word ‘Lijnbaan’ stretched across a roof in modern sans-serif letters. Initially, the shopkeepers vehemently opposed this name, which referred to the rope-making workshops once located here. They preferred the name Promenade. But the Lijnbaan soon became a household name and even sparked the marketing slogan: ‘Have you Lijnbaaned yet’?
The effect of the Lijnbaan is warm, lively, almost gay: the daylight, the waving flags, the delicate acacia trees, the rectangular flower beds, the occasional benches, even a glass-enclosed café area plump in the middle of the mall -and, not least, the human figures, moving in and out between the shadows of the covered way and the open sunlight, in an area that is entirely their own. The unity and harmony of all this delight the eye, with just the right combination of the artful and the natural, the intimate detail and the clear over-all pattern.
Lewis Mumford - A Walk Through Rotterdam, The New Yorker, 12 October 1957
Phase one of the Lijnbaan was built between 1949 and 1953: the short Korte Lijnbaan between Schouwburgplein and Coolsingel crosses the long Lijnbaan street, which extends from Weena to Van Oldenbarneveltstraat. Between 1967 and 1970 the Lijnbaan extended further to the department stores on Binnenwegplein, made possible by the demolition of the remains of the Coolsingel Hospital. The area contains two squares: Stadhuisplein in the first phase and Lijnbaanplein in the second. In formal terms, Stadhuisplein is not part of the Lijnbaan, and the surrounding buildings are the work of other architects.
A number of larger shops were grouped around Lijnbaanplein, and the transition to Binnenwegplein took the form of a bridge building that housed the Lijnbaan Centre, an easily accessible exhibition space. The basement below housed a cinema, until it was converted into a jazz club called Thelonious. In addition to Van den Broek and Bakema, other architects designed parts of the shopping centre. Various architects designed the buildings on both sides of Stadhuisplein, and C. Elffers designed Ruteck’s restaurant on the north-east corner of the intersection. The east side of the last stretch of the Lijnbaan towards Weena is part of the Thalia cinema complex designed by Hendriks.
In the late 1950s a series of disturbances with so-called Lijnbaan gangs led to the police rounding up a ‘fairly large mob of troublesome youths’. A 1960 novel by John den Admirant bore the title Lijnbaan Jungle. It features the ‘cafeteria and moped youths’, addicted to jazz and drugs, who gather in ‘De Arabier, a rough café near the Lijnbaan in Rotterdam’. This is a reference to De Turk, a coffee shop opposite Capri ice parlour. In the late 1980s the Lijnbaan was again the scene of disturbances when football supporters ran amok and rival gangs of youths gathered there to settle their grievances.
Slowly but surely, the respectable shops of the early years moved out owing to the steep rents, and they were replaced by discount stores and fast food restaurants. Competition from indoor shopping centres like Zuidplein and Oosterhof further reduced the popularity of Rotterdam’s Fifth Avenue. Plans to roof over the Lijnbaan surfaced in the 1980s. Designs by OMA in partnership with Ove Arup & Partners in 1987, and by the English architecture firms Derek Walker and Conran Design Group in 1988 were greeted with enthusiasm, but shopkeepers lost interest when they heard the cost of redevelopment. However, lots of components such as roofs, street surfaces and facades were renovated.
In 2005 there were even plans to demolish much of the Lijnbaan and the surrounding apartment blocks. Demolition was averted when, on 19 February 2010, Minister Plasterk designated the complex a national heritage site. Architect Robert Winkel (Mei Architects) restored one complex of shops, the letters ‘Lijnbaan’ were put back, and the aim now is to restore the whole complex to its original condition as much as possible. However, the complex still awaits major restoration work. Indeed, the second phase of the Lijnbaan does not enjoy a protected status and is threatened with partial demolition to make way for the Forum complex proposed by OMA. According to the city council, only the original phase of the Lijnbaan enjoys the status of national heritage site. The Lijnbaan Centre closed its doors in 1984, and Thelonious jazz club shut in 1992. The lower level was closed off and now contains retail units.