The only project of Rotterdam’s reconstruction to be built during the war was Wereldhaven — the area between Goudsesingel, Vondelweg, Warande and Boezemsingel. It consists of metropolitan blocks with shops and dwellings along Goudsesingel and, behind them, low-rise blocks arranged around green courtyards. The first pile was driven into the ground on the 15th of april 1941, and despite the halt on construction in 1942, the complex was completed. The first homes were finished on 23 January 1943. The name Wereldhaven is derived from the Wereldhaven construction firm, which built just a part of the 508-home development.
Much of the area is the work of one architect, Jan Wils, who designed the first and largest part. Of greater importance was the urban layout by Willem Gerrit Witteveen, whose ideas for a monumental cityscape in the reconstructed Rotterdam would only be realised here. City architect Witteveen was replaced in 1944 by his assistant Cornelis van Traa, who envisaged a more functional form of urban design, which resulted in the Basic Plan. By then, however, this district was already nearing completion.
The second part of Wereldhaven was built between 1949 and 1951 to a design by the architects Jan Bolten, Dirk Dürrer and Aebele Gerke & Jan Postma. A striking school building belonging to the Amman Foundation occupied the north-eastern corner of the area until it was razed in 2008; a vacant piece of land is all that reminds us today of this elegant work from the reconstruction period.
Originally, the entire area between Goudsesingel and Goudserijweg was to be developed according to the principles of Witteveen, with Warande at the centre as a green parkway. It was not until the cattle market disappeared in the early 1970s that the necessary space became available, but Witteveen’s ideas had by then long been abandoned. The available space was filled with blocks of apartments accessed from shared staircases, built according to the then prevalent doctrine of urban renewal.
The architecture of the complex by Wils is typical of the transition from the traditional brick architecture of the 1930s to the industrialised housing of the 1950s. Walls are made of brick and the floors of concrete. Apart from brick, the façades include prefabricated concrete elements and steel frames. But there are also traditional details, especially in the low-rise volumes, such as the rounded gutters. Moreover, pitched roofs have been used. The open arrangement of the low-rise blocks is an early harbinger of later urban design insights.
Broadly speaking, the complex consists of two parts: an elongated, large-scale residential block, five and six stories in height, and a lower volume containing shops with, perpendicular to it, residential blocks set in greenery and decreasing in height. The tall residential block is accessed from galleries that extend along Herman Robbersstraat to the rear. Lifts and staircases are positioned outside the main volume. Also located here are the entrances to the shops, which form a wide plinth. Running along that wide plinth is a residential street similar to that in the Justus van Effen complex, which is not very attractive, however, owing to its poor orientation to the sun.
The blocks of dwellings to the rear, which decrease in height from four to three to two levels, overlook publicly accessible collective green courts. A pedestrian route extends through the area. Picturesque garages and planted areas screen the courts from Herman Robbersstraat. A taller volume on Vondelweg closes the neighbourhood. Development in the form of row housing is absent here. Instead, there are streets with entrances to homes and courtyards along both sides. The homes are accessed from staircases and feature balconies and pergolas in a concrete framework. Modernist architects and urban designers voiced strong criticism of the complex. The tall volume along the southern side prevented good sunlight penetration of the homes arranged around the green courtyards.
The area around Goudsesingel was a notorious slum before the war. The city council and city architect were not sorry to see the destruction of this part of the city. But Goudsesingel was also important as one of the busiest markets in the Netherlands. Apart from the shops in the residential blocks by Wils, a complex of emergency shops was built here during the war.
But Goudsesingel never did become a vibrant shopping street again. Its busy traffic and location somewhat removed from the centre turned out to be insurmountable obstacles.
It will be some time yet before the last emergency shop has been abandoned and demolished. But every blow of the sledgehammer brings Rotterdam closer to the ideal: Goudsesingel as a broad, modern and safe boulevard for flâneurs and shoppers.
Rotterdams Parool 12-8-1952