Restoration of the Laurenskerk
The Laurenskerk was badly damaged by the bombing of May 1940, though the spire itself remained largely intact.
O, beautiful grey Laurens spire
In the heart of Rotterdam
We will build you up
So that you can charm us again
Green-white-green blowing at the top
Song text by Albert de Booy
The Laurenskerk was badly damaged by the bombing of May 1940, though the spire itself remained largely intact. The church had only recently been restored. In June 1940 a committee of architects and experts in building conservation was convened to study the condition of three important structures: the Laurenskerk, Schielandshuis and Delftsche Poort. On 9 September the committee reported that it was aesthetically and technically possible to repair the spire and church, but restoration would be very expensive. Rotterdam possesses so few monuments, and the Laurenskerk can become such an important and valuable point in the cityscape that its restoration can therefore already be considered of immense importance. After the rubble had been cleared and the damaged buildings demolished, the spire and ruins of the church stood isolated on the empty wasteland. The Reconstruction Plan envisaged that the church would be incorporated into the urban fabric, as the expensive land around the church was popular. Van Traa, who drew up the Basic Plan, saw the church as an obstacle. He would have preferred to demolish it, just like Schielandshuis and Witte Huis…
In June 1940 a committee of architects and experts in building conservation was convened to study the condition of three important structures: the Laurenskerk, Schielandshuis and Delftsche Poort.
After the war various ideas circulated about the Laurenskerk. Some people wanted to leave it as a ruin, as a reminder of the destruction of the city. And there was a rather shocking proposal by J.J.P. Oud to restore just the spire and to build a new, contemporary church behind it next to the railway viaduct. He wanted to preserve the grave slabs in the nave and include a model of the old church to create space for commemoration. Oud: I imagine that, in this way, one could make, in the centre of Rotterdam, a consecrated memorial. It will appear as an oasis in this district. A place into which one can retreat from the bustle of the city, where one can more deeply reflect on preventing the misery of war than one could in the Laurenskerk, rebuilt in its former style. On the forecourt around the church, Oud had reserved space for the sculpture Destroyed City by Zadkine. One complication was that the spire was the property of the city, while the nave belonged to the Dutch Reformed Church.
Rein Blijstra thought that restoration amounted to the same thing as rebuilding: rebuilding a Gothic monument is in essence fakery, both historically and artistically. If one calmly considers that the reconstruction of Laurenskerk will cost between eight and ten million guilders, one could reasonably ask whether rebuilding a church in a form that is nothing but a dead copy of what has disappeared, for so much money, can be considered justified.
Het Vrĳe Volk 14-12-1968
In the end, it was decided to restore, or more accurately rebuild, the church. The central government supported the restoration financially by vouching for 90% of the total cost of 8 million guilders. Queen Juliana visited Construction Day in 1952 and laid the first stone with the words:
Violated by force of war. God grant: restored. In a speech, the queen emphasised the huge symbolic significance of the building. This Laurenskerk will continue to carry the hallmarks of its repairs from the mid-twentieth century and will always remind the people of Rotterdam of what happened. More strongly than before, it wants to be in the centre of the city. People will wonder later how it was rebuilt, and realise it was apparently no problem in those difficult years around 1950. And the answer will be: of course it was rebuilt then, because Rotterdam was, and always will be, Rotterdam.
Het Vrĳe Volk 14-12-1968
Many new milestones were celebrated over the following years: the repaired transept in 1958, the swinging bells in 1960, and the carillon in 1961. Restoration architect Johan Coenraad Meischke (1889-1966) did not live to see the work finished. His closest colleague and successor J.W.C. Besemer received the Laurens Medal for his work. The restoration of the church was eventually completed in December 1968 and was officially inaugurated in the presence of Princess Beatrix and Prince Claus. To mark its one hundred and fiftieth anniversary, the Rotterdam company Pakhuismeesteren donated two bronze doors by Italian artist Giaomo Manzù that depict the theme of war and peace.
Now that the church had been restored to its former glory, critics took aim at the subordinate position of the building and at the reconstruction of the immediate surroundings.
The modest and more introvert character of Laurenskerk can easily accommodate the company of surrounding development. Indeed, it calls for it. Van Traa determined the preservation of views of the church and spire. It is not so much this plan but its elaboration that is now the subject of increasingly strong criticism. Objections focus on the architectural poverty of the new buildings completed since the 1950s around Laurenskerk as well as the presence of the hideously ugly building for the district heating service. It is time that people viewed the mistakes and shortcomings in stone, like those made in Rotterdam and in particular around Laurenskerk after the war, less as “just simply made" and “irreparable".
Het Vrĳe Volk 14-12-1968
- Laurenskerk, Grotekerkplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands