Rotterdam can rightly be proud of this new hospital, for it is not just the biggest of its kind in terms of bed numbers, but thanks to its modern layout and wonderful instruments, it is probably also the best-equipped eye hospital in our country. Built in a Romantic style, the facade looks like it could grace the Canal Grande in Venice instead of a busy boulevard, but everything inside is designed to be functional and practical.
Rotterdamsch Nieuwsblad, 15 December 1948
The Eye Hospital on Schiedamse Vest looks like an Italian palazzo. When it opened in 1948, the historical exterior concealed an ultra-modern hospital. A Swedish eye doctor described the Eye Hospital in those years as ‘the nicest and most modern hospital in Europe’. While many outmoded hospitals are now being demolished, the most up-to-dare medical techniques are still being applied today behind this traditionalist facade. In fact, the contrast between interior and exterior has even increased since they were renovated between 2010 and 2015.
The sources of inspiration of the architect, Ad van der Steur (1893-1953), are unclear. But the other works by him show how adept he was in various styles: many secondary school buildings in Rotterdam-Zuid in a Dudok style, the Scandinavian-inspired Boijmans museum, the classical Gymnasium Erasmianum, the traditionalist Twentsche Bank, and the Art Deco filter buildings of the Maas Tunnel.
Of the valuable contents, nothing — apart from the equipment — has survived. But Dr Flieringa is not the type of man to throw in the towel. And so, within days of the bombardment, in collaboration with the management of the destroyed eye hospital on Nadorststraat, a temporary eye hospital had been fitted out in a vacant building at number 107 Westersingel. Dr Flieringa himself even pulled useful beds and other material from the ruins, loaded them onto a handcart, and took them to the new facility.
Rotterdamsch Nieuwsblad, 14 December 1940
The Eye Hospital resulted from a merger between two Rotterdam institutions: the eye hospital ran by the 'Society for the provision of help to needy eye patients from Zuid-Holland' on Nadorststraat from 1874, and the ‘Institute for eye patients from the Vrouwe Maria Cornelia Blankenheim Foundation’ on Oostmolenwerf from 1915. Both buildings were destroyed by the bombardment of May 1940, and the institutions decided to work together in one new eye hospital. A premises at number 107 Westersingel was temporarily used. ‘Now the moment seemed to be at hand to realize a dormant plan, namely to combine the work of both societies active in the field of eye ophthalmology.’ That was according to H.J. Flieringa, director of the temporary hospital and later director of the new Eye Hospital.
Work on the new building designed by architect Ad van der Steur commenced in early 1941. A possible merger with the planned replacement for the Coolsingel Hospital was not pursued owing to uncertainty concerning the timing and site of that new building. The first pile entered the ground in July 1942, and the basement was finished in 1943. The Nazi occupiers forced construction to halt, and it started again in 1945. The building, with a capacity of one hundred patients, opened on 15 December 1948.
Hypermodern Eye Hospital in Rotterdam opens
There are not many hospitals in Europe that are furnished in such a modern, American manner as the Eye Hospital on Schiedamsesingel in Rotterdam, which opened officially today. This building comprises a basement, ground floor and four upper floors, each of which features something distinctive. From the electro-retinograph — an instrument that enables doctors to determine how the retina functions — to the large roof garden, where patients behind glass can listen to the radio.
Het Vrĳe Volk, 15 December 1948
The composition of the building, which was the first to be constructed in the area, takes into account the surrounding future development. The Eye Hospital represented a piece of advanced planning in this future city district. The volume along Schiedamse Vest is tall so that it matches the tall buildings beside the old Bijenkorf and Dennehove residential building by Jan Wils. It marks the traffic route, while the L-shaped volume aligns with the future development along Baan. A public garden was created in front of the Walloon Church, leaving the building intact. The lower portion contains wards overlooking the garden and office spaces along Baan. The building volumes are grouped in a horseshoe formation around a courtyard.
The building has a concrete shell, which is almost entirely concealed behind a moulded brickwork facade featuring various embellishments that recall the fine old buildings along Schiedamse Singel. The selected yellowish-grey brickwork was chosen to blend with the colours of Bijenkorf and Dennehove.
The distinctive brick balconies supported by barrel vaults on the front facade and above the entrance are striking compositional elements. A band of interlaced brickwork extends across the top of the facade. Marking the main entrance is a small tower, topped by a wrought-iron artwork by Rotterdam sculptor Carl Gellings (1892-1959). Balconies with decorative cross fencing adorn the smaller volume.
Moreover, I must draw attention to the highest point of the building, crowned by a piece in wrought iron by artist Gellings, which symbolically expresses the work carried out inside this building. The sun, which rises there behind the clouds, tells of the light that medical treatment bestows on the patients.
De Maasstad, January/February 1949
The facade composition is based on the functional organization of the hospital. Large windows to the patient wards are located on the south side. The volume along Schiedamse Vest mostly contains administration spaces, management offices and spaces for the resident doctor. The operating theatres on the fourth floor have tall, narrow windows and also draw daylight through a saw-tooth roof. Technical spaces on the fifth floor are concealed behind a blind facade.
A lot of attention has been devoted to sound insulation. Wards are separated from each other by cavity walls. Additional sound insulation measures have also been implemented on the floor. Rubber damping strips attached to the steel frames counter the noise of banging doors. Other precautionary measures were taken to prevent patients from bumping into or getting jammed in the doors.
The Eye Hospital on Schiedamese Vest has acquired a large new wing, and that is notable because the new hospital, which replaces two destroyed eye hospitals, was completed just a few years after the liberation. And now the occupants face an anxious shortage of space. Some 12,000 patients were expected to be treated annually, but the figure is already approaching 30,000.
Het Vrĳe Volk, 22 December 1956
Within just two years, the Eye Hospital had become too cramped. In 1950, Van der Steur designed a three-floor extension on the northern side in the same style as the existing building, yet somewhat more sober and less richly decorated. Van der Steur died unexpectedly in 1953, and his successor Geert Drexhage (1914-1983) submitted a design of his own, but Flieringa insisted on elaborating the scheme drawn up by Van der Steur. The extension was built between December 1954 and December 1956.
Between 2010 and 2015, the interior of the Eye Hospital was thoroughly modernized. The restoration of the exterior involved replacing sections of the facade and concrete components. The original stained-glass elements in the space for the lift shaft and winding stairs on the side of the building have been moved to the windows on the third floor, which overlook the atrium. When viewed from above, the slightly curved atrium takes the form of an eye. Joost Koldeweij of Duintjer Architects has made the interior as bright as possible. Roofing over the courtyard has created an atrium in the centre of the building. In collaboration with interior designer Marijke van der Wijst, areas of colour and proverbs have been added to the white walls. Art historian Ineke van Ginneke selected artworks that have something to do with eyes and vision. And so the Eye Hospital has become a Folk Museum for Eye Art.
Unfortunately the Eye Hospital decided in 2021 to sell the building in the future and build a new hospital at the premises of the new Erasmus Hospital. Although the building has no monumental status yet it must be possible to maintain this icon for Rotterdam.