The new building for the Nationale Levensverzekering Bank on Schiekade, the first pile of which was driven into the ground in July 1942, is already in use. A big building measuring 65 x 48 metres, covering an area of 3210 m2 and with a volume of 70,500 m3. “An asset for the streetscape, still full of vacant sites; a new source of life in the organism of the city,” says Mayor Pieter Oud.
De Telegraaf, 1 November 1949
The Nationale Levensverzekering Bank building on Boompjes was only slightly damaged in the war, but it was still decided to build a new structure on Schiekade. The architects Cornelis Elffers (1898-1987) and Ary Abraham van Nieuwenhuyzen (1883-1959) drew up the design, and the first pile entered the ground in July 1942. Like most other projects that started during the war, work soon ceased owing to the temporary halt to construction, but resumed in 1946. However, the homes originally planned at the rear of the building were not built. The building opened on 30 October 1949. A portion of it was earmarked for a subsidiary company called ‘The First Rotterdam Accident Insurance Company’. The damaged building on Boompjes remained in use until 1949.
The building has representative facades on three sides. Development was only added to the rear later. The front facade is 65 metres long and the side facades 48 metres long. In the centre of the U-shaped building is a large office hall measuring 38 by 20 metres, with a ceiling height of 8 metres, topped by a glazed roof. The hall could accommodate 326 employees. Offices arranged along a corridor extend around the three wings of the U-shaped building. The front volume mostly contains the directors offices and conference rooms. Consultation rooms were located between the corridor and office hall. Located along the rear facade were the safes, directly accessible from the office hall: safes for the Nationale on the ground floor and for the Eerste Rotterdamsche above. On the third floor, above the safes, was the coffee room for staff as well as a recreation area for the staff association, which could also be used as a gym.
Immediately inside the entrance is a monumental marble staircase that splits into two smaller staircases above. Between the staircase and the office hall are fifty stained-glass windows designed by the Rotterdam artist Pieter den Besten (1894-1972). This part also boasted elegant illumination ornaments by the artist and smith Carl Gellings (1892-1959).
The basement beneath the entire building housed a bike shed, cloakrooms, archival safes, storage rooms and coal-bunkers.
It is built for work, and as soon as you enter this cube you have to admit that the interior reflects its function. Work areas are spacious, bright and fresh; the noise of the trams and cars on Schiekade is carefully yet completely shut out. The acoustics in the hall, where 600 employees can work on two spatially connected levels, is miraculous. No tumultuous din while those seated at the rows of desks do their work. Quite the contrary: all conversations seem to carry no further than a couple of metres.
Het Vrĳe Volk, 1 November 1949
Gracing the corners of the building are sculptures by Christiaan Huygens (right) and Johan de Witt (left), the fathers of actuarial mathematics. Huygens was a statistician and De Witt perfected the calculation of probability. The pieces were made by Albert Termote (1887-1978), who was also responsible for the symbolic representation above the entrance. On both sides of an oval window stand four larger-than-life human figures. On one side a young, powerful man, who is sowing. Behind him an old man, beneath a cornucopia. Two female figures are depicted in similar fashion on the other side. They symbolize the harvest. The young woman holds aloft a fruit. The notion of Time, which of course also plays a role in insurance, is represented by a naked figure, a seated boy holding a sundial. (Het Vrije Volk, 31 January 1948)
Emblazoned above the cornucopia is a line of poetry by P.C. Hooft – baet is tegens alle schae – and the year MCMXLIX (1949).
Once completed, the responses to the solemn, monumental building were mixed. According to De Telegraaf newspaper, it was “a jewel for the new city and moreover a wonderful source of employment for the many staff”. The Algemeen Handelsblad was also full of praise for the squat building:
“As far as the architectural detailing is concerned, this building with its embellishments and sculptures can most certainly be called an asset for the area.” Het Vrije Volk sounded a more critical note: For there stands the “Nationale”, almost lumpish and forcibly clamouring for attention. It is square and angular, lacking all modulation in facade composition and treatment; it is traditional and unromantic, and it makes no effort whatsoever to appear otherwise.”
The verdict of Rein Blijstra some years later was absolutely scathing. In a discussion of traditionalist bank buildings in his series ‘Rotterdam op leven en dood’, in which he discussed the post-war period, he opined that the Nationale was the least successful of the bank buildings:
An extremely “tall" office building, substantial, solid, with a strange top floor hidden behind a bulky balustrade, so that people in the rooms behind do not enjoy good daylight because of the front facade, which looks like a piece of cardboard in which rectangular holes have been cut for windows. In contrast to the other bank buildings, apart from the Rotterdamse Bank, where they avoided the unnecessary monumental staircases, here the spacious hall contains a staircase that a regiment of dragoons could march up, but it ends on the first floor.
Het Vrije Volk, 11 December 1952
Speaking of cardboard, to mark the opening the Nationale issued a cardboard cut-out of the building.
Shortly after completion, it became clear that the building was too small, and Elffers & Van Nieuwenhuyzen drew up proposals for its extension. The first proposal in 1955 was for a ten-floor building close to the site of the Reformed Church, which would have had to be demolished and rebuilt elsewhere. A footbridge across Simonstraat was to connect it to the main building. In the end the extension was built at the rear. The extension designed by Corn. Elffers (architect Van Nieuwenhuyzen has since died) is much more ‘modern’ in style and features totally sleek facades. (Het Vrije Volk, 15 September 1961). The building had an aluminium curtain-wall facade and was completed in 1966. This modern facade was replaced between 2001 and 2003 by a new one designed by the architects Studio A1. Three floors were also added on top of the building, and the symmetrical concept was altered through demolition. A new entrance was added on Teilingerstraat.
The Nationale Levensverzekerings Bank merged in 1963 with De Nederlanden van 1845 van Den Haag to form Nationale-Nederlanden. The Rotterdam branch remained in operation until the construction of the new head office on Weena. Since then the building has been occupied by a number of tenants, among them the UWV, the government agency in charge of social security. The Bouwcentrum, which moved out of its building near the station in 1996, moved into Schiekade 830. Little remains of the insurance office, apart from the monumental staircase and the former directors’ room. The building is a municipal monument.