The Wijnhaven District is, broadly speaking, the triangle bounded by Blaak, Leuvehaven and Boompjes. The boundary to the east is diffuse. Although the elevated approach road to the Willems Bridge forms a natural boundary, Wijnhaven, from which the area takes its name, officially extends as far as the Witte Huis. But since the area around the Witte Huis survived the wartime bombardment, it is more practical and logical to consider the André van der Louw Bridge as the boundary of the post-war Wijnhaven District.
Wijnhaven and Scheepmakershaven are the main waterways in the area. Dating from the early seventeenth century, they were among the first port expansions in Rotterdam as it experienced an initial period of growth. Wine was the mainstay of trade; hence the name Wijnhaven. Leuvehaven was also dug at the time. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Wijnhaven developed strongly with warehouses and townhouses. The monumental Regentesse Bridge, with its four lions, is the only tangible memory of the pre-war grandeur of Wijnhaven. Apart from that, the only other structure left standing in the area was the building occupied by the firm R. Mees & Sons on Blaak. The brick building from 1934 by architect Kropholler later became the Academy of Art.
In the Basis Plan drawn up by Van Traa, the area around Wijnhaven was earmarked for office and commercial buildings in the shipping sector. Taller and larger buildings lined the edges of the area, with banks along Blaak and offices and homes on Boompjes. Bierhaven and Rederijhaven, two mooring docks for inland vessels, extended from Leuvehaven. A centre for inland navigation was built on the newly created piers. The pre-war Leuve Bridge between Schildersstraat and Wijnhaven disappeared to allow for inland shipping traffic. Leuvehaven was also widened to create the so-called 'window to the river' from Van Traa’s Basis Plan. This meant that people on Coolsingel and Churchillplein could enjoy a view of the port activity. If the mayor of Rotterdam stands on the balcony of the city hall in the future, he will look along Coolsingel directly towards the Maas, wrote De Tijd on 17 May 1947.
Leuvehaven and Scheepmakershaven retained their generous profile, with space for loading and unloading vessels along the water’s edge. The main route through the area, the once narrow Posthoornstraat, was widened to meet the requirements of modern traffic. A tram even ran down this street, which for obscure reasons keeps changing name along its length: first Posthoornstraat, then Glashaven, and finally Rederijstraat.
Development within the Wijnhaven District was slow to get off the ground. Very few companies had the funds to construct a building of their own. Only the banks on Blaak had enough money for new buildings. The Amsterdamsche Bank/Incassobank, the Nederlandsche Handelmaatschappij and the Twentsche Bank were built in quick succession in the late 1950s. Construction was sluggish on Boompjes, with just one building constructed, again a bank: a branch of De Nederlandsche Bank, completed in 1955. Two small office buildings for two towing service companies were built around 1960. The raising of Boompjes and the rest of the defence line along the Nieuwe Maas to the level of the delta entailed years of construction activity. The Nieuwe Leuve Bridge and the Leuvekeersluis lock were completed in late 1958.
The incremental development of the area gradually gained momentum. First, four warehouses for tobacco trader Koch & Co. were built. The historicizing clock gables by architect Kees Elffers differed significantly from the idealized modernist image of Rotterdam post-war reconstruction and were loathed by modern architects. Even the supposedly objective Winkler Prins Encyclopaedia from 1954 contained a note of criticism in a photo caption: The archaic forms of the warehouse fronts (concrete skeleton covered with cladding!) contrast starkly with the pure architecture of the office of a metal company in the foreground. (That metal company was Van Houten on Jufferstraat, housed in a building by Van den Broek and Bakema from 1951, now demolished.) The buildings next completed were also extremely traditional: the Havelaar & Bos office building from 1946, likewise designed by Elffers, and a building for the Rotterdamse Electrische Apparatenfabriek from 1948. These plans date from the period of city architect Witteveen, and were made while the rather conservative supervisor Kraaijvanger was still active.
Some years later, Elffers completed two slightly more modern buildings: an office building for ICI and a Grain Warehouse. In the early 1960s the area was completely developed with office and commercial buildings, designed by less prominent though highly productive Rotterdam architects such as W.J. Fiolet, Dirk Dürrer and Harry Nefkens. Apart from the occasional concierge, nobody lived in the area. In the late 1960s, two elongated office blocks similar in format to De Nederlandsche Bank were built on Boompjes: a building (1967) by Ernest Groosman for Pakhoed and a building (1969) by Herman Bakker for two Rotterdam companies: De Haas Brothers Tanker Transport and Dammers & Van der Heide & Co Shipbrokers and Shipping Agency.
Apart from shipping firms, Wijnhaven and surroundings proved a popular location for architecture firms. Van den Broek & Bakema moved into an office at Posthoornstraat 12b in 1955. EGM, Quist, DSBV and Kraaijvanger also operated from the Wijnhaven District for a period. Hoogstad Van Tilburg and Neutelings Riedijk later joined them, while OMA and Claus & Kaan worked on Boompjes. Architects evidently have a preference for cheap office space inside dull buildings.
Inland navigation centre
The character of the district began to change in the mid-1970s. The first sign of renewal came when three terraced residential buildings replaced the inland navigation centre on the piers along Leuvehaven. Plans for a world trade centre on Leuvehaven were first mooted in 1965, with two office towers of no less than 145 metres in height. However, that project never got off the ground owing to the economic slump in the 1970s. The housing scheme on the piers by architecture firm Apon Van den Berg Ter Braak Tromp is typical of the small-scale brick architecture of the late 1970s. It was an early example of the transformation of a declining dock area into a residential neighbourhood, with the retention of the piers and mooring places for inland shipping vessels.
The relocation of the Academy of Art to the old Mees & Hope bank building on the corner of Blaak in 1981 helped breathe new life into the area. A number of office buildings were converted into apartment complexes for students, and more and more shipping firms moved out of the area.
In the 1985 City Centre Plan, the Wijnhaven District was earmarked for maritime recreation and tourism, and the Waterstad project office tried to develop the area. Waterstad covered the whole area along the river, from Schiedamsedijk up to and including Tropicana. Boompjes was transformed into a boulevard, with terraced seating and a pavilion café, and Leuvehaven was enlivened with the Maritime Museum and Walk of Fame. A successful nightlife area blossomed around Oudehaven and the Witte Huis, with cafés and restaurants a stone’s throw from the cube dwellings. The Wijnhaven District itself lagged behind, however. The so-called Schipperspad, a pedestrian route from Museumpark to Oudehaven over Kranescheep Bridge and along Leuvehaven, and with Wijnhaven resurfaced with a pattern of blocks, was scarcely used.
The second wave of renewal came with the appearance of high-rise buildings in the area. First on Boompjes in the late 1980s, where the Nedlloyd head office, boasting a facade measuring 90 by 90 metres, signalled a jump in scale, and not just in this part of the city but throughout Rotterdam. Boompjes was also the location of De Maas, a 76-metre-tall office tower, and three 69-metre-tall residential towers by Henk Klunder. In 2006, Cees Dam completed De Coopvaert at Plein 1940. The push for renewal even threatened the survival of the bank buildings on Blaak, but a campaign by the Post-War Reconstruction Committee ensured their survival, and they even acquired the status of national monument with preservation status.
By the end of the twentieth century, the ageing office buildings in the Wijnhaven District had definitively lost their appeal, with most of the shipping firms having already relocated towards Europoort. In 1993 Kees Christiaanse started to draw up an urban master plan for the transformation of Wijnhaven Island into a residential area. He proposed to combine new development with existing post-war reconstruction architecture, but respecting strict rules. The existing arrangement of perimeter blocks comprised of individual buildings was maintained up to a height of 20 metres. At certain points, a limited volume of 35 cubic metres could be developed per square metre of ground. As a result, high-rise structures would by definition be slender. The taller you wanted to build, the thinner the building would have to be. Property owners could work together or acquire multiple plots, but they had to respect a maximum ground-floor area of 2,000 square metres. In other words, larger plots had to be divided into smaller ones no bigger than 2,000 square metres. So if somebody acquired an entire perimeter block, they had to build multiple towers.
Various residential towers have since been built in the district: three Waterstad towers by HM Architects (1996-2005), the Scheepmakers Tower by Taco Pino (2008), the Red Apple by Christiaanse’s office KCAP (2009), 100 Hoog by Klunder Architects (2013), and Uptown by Jeroen Hoorn (2019). The Muse by Barcode Architects is under construction. The sloping terrain beside the Academy of Art is the site of the Bright building by Tangram Architects.
Construction also continued on Boompjes. In 2005, 01-10 Architects completed an office building for Ernst & Young on the site beside De Nederlandsche Bank. Proposals for high-rise development on top of the bank were ditched. Two elongated office buildings (370 apartments) by Groosman and Bakker were replaced by two residential towers of seventy and one hundred metres in height by Team V and The Terraced Tower (340 apartments, 110 metres tall) by OZ Architects.
The bank buildings on Blaak have since been restored. The Blakeburg office building, one of the typical 1970s buildings with concrete facades, will be replaced by The One, a residential tower by Ben van Berkel (UN Studio).
These schemes have turned the Wijnhaven District into a real residential neighbourhood that is now home to thousands of people. A vibrant area it is not, however, despite the numerous restaurants and hotels that have opened here.