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Zuidpleinflat residential building

In 1949 a tall residential buidling designed by architect Van Tijen arises at the Zuidplein. Each floor has two 2-room flats with a loggia and six 3-room flats. The concrete shell was completed ‘in the American manner’: from top to bottom..

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In 1949 the Zuidplein residential building was the tallest of the Netherlands.

Stadsarchief Rotterdam, 1949

A beautiful residential complex has risen from the soft soil of Rotterdam. It is the block of flats, the skyscraper, at Zuidplein. This proud edifice stands 44 metres tall. Currently it is the tallest residential structure in the country. Compared to the one on Kralingse Plaslaan and the other on De Visserstraat, this third new creation by the architect Van Tijen represents architectural progress. The building blends harmoniously with the context of Zuidplein. It is, as the architect Van Tijen put it, “no unpalatable lump”. It does not leave the area lifeless. Instead, it has become, in truth, a place for living. No doubt that is what the residents of this new block of flats will feel. A lasting solution to the demands of good, spacious and fresh living and those of aesthetic appearance has been sought with tremendous care.

Het Vrije Volk, 24 September 1949

Van Tijen

The Zuidpleinflat is the fourth tallest residential building completed by the Rotterdam architect Willem van Tijen (1894-1974). After the Parklaanflat of 1933, the Bergpolderflat of 1934 and the Plaslaanflat of 1938, he was invited in 1939 by the Municipal Technical Service Department to design one of the five planned blocks of flats set in greenery on the southern edge of Zuidplein. These eight-floor residential buildings would not be considered high-rise by today’s standards, but 14 floors were planned as early as 1941. And five blocks of flats were envisaged, because of the severe shortage of homes caused by the bombardment. Homes for families of all sizes were designed. According to the newspapers, the working drawings for the blocks were completely finished and those behind the project wanted to start constructing one block as soon as possible. The Volkswoningbouw was a public limited company set up by Van Tijen and Auguste Plate, director of the Municipal Housing Department and chairman of the Social Insurance Bank (SVZ), and an enlightened advocate of good public housing. However, the project never got off the ground because of the war.

Currently it is the tallest residential structure in the country. (1949)
1948 zuidpleinflat

The construction of the Zuidpleinflat started in 1948.

Stadsarchief Rotterdam, 1948

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In May 1948 the building had eight stories already.

Stadsarchief Rotterdam, may 1948

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The concrete shell was finished top down.

Bob van Rijn, Stadsarchief Rotterdam, 1948


After the liberation, the project was carried out in a slightly altered form and on another site. The first pile was driven into the ground on 29 April 1947. The residential building was of course largely designed by Van Tijen, albeit with a team of other designers. Naturally, he worked with the younger Hugh Maaskant, his partner since 1937. Jaap Bakema also worked with Van Tijen during the war years. His spot was taken by Ernest Groosman when the design was being detailed. Gerrit Rietveld was also involved in some of Van Tijen’s projects during the post-war period, among them the Zuidpleinflat. According to Groosman, he came up with the fenestration composition of nine squares. Van Tijen and Groosman wanted the biggest possible windows, but they couldn’t work out the bar arrangement for the glazing. ‘Divide it into nine panes and make sure that the central one can open for ventilation and the duster.’

The construction of the building also attracted attention. The concrete shell was completed ‘in the American manner’: from top to bottom.

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Entrance hall.

Nieuwe Instituut, Van Tijen Archief, 1949

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Living room with the nine square fenestration.

Nieuwe Instituut, Van Tijen Archief, 1949

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The galleries are pleasant by widening them in places.

Nieuwe Instituut, Van Tijen Archive, 1949

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The stairs and galleries have diamond shaped ironwork.

Nieuwe Instituut, Van Tijen Archive, 1949


Like the Kralingse Plaslaan block, the building features a concrete structure, which greatly determines its appearance. This skeleton is filled in with brickwork and glazing set in timber frames. Steel railings line the balconies and galleries. The expressive potential of reinforced concrete is evident in the escape staircases. The reporter from Het Vrije Volk newspaper was lyrical in his 1949 review: ‘Just look at that elegant staircase added to the rear. The concrete curves playfully upwards, the railings decoratively frame the galleries; the diamond-shaped ironwork, a design selected after 52 drawings had first been made, dance upwards and along the galleries on the southern side of the building, where the entrances to the flats are positioned.’

Van Tijen was a functional architect, with an eye for details: ‘I tried to make the galleries pleasant by widening them in places. On the roof is a terrace with a powerful view of the city and the docks.’

The construction of the building also attracted attention. The concrete shell was completed ‘in the American manner’: from top to bottom.

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Plan of a 2-room flat

Archive Van Tijen

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Plan of a 3-room flat

Archive Van Tijen

095x Zuidpleinflat marlieslageweg

Marlies Lagweweg, Platfcrm Wederopbouw Rotterdan, 2023

Zuidpleinflat extra5

Every floor has six 3-room flats and two 2-room flats.

Archive Van Tijen


The 12-floor building contains 118 flats. The eight on each level consist of two two-room flats, 5.2 metres wide, and six three-room flats, 6.8 metres wide. The two-room flats have a loggia across the full width; the three-room flats have a half-recessed balcony. This differentiation is clearly legible on the facade. Located above the entrance on the south facade are two two-room flats on each level. A five-room flat was originally planned here. Van Tijen felt that this was an improvement, because he thought that high-rise was less suitable for families with children. He himself lived with his family in his own creations, first in the Parklaanflat and later in the Plaslaanflat, so he could speak from experience. The top floor was reserved for 14 guestrooms. The terrace on the roof was accessible to all residents. On the ground floor were storage rooms and spaces for washing and drying; the flats did not include, and still don’t, any connection for a washing machine. A shared garden on the east side could be accessed via steps from the lowest gallery.

Doctors, engineers, high-ranking civil servants, businessmen and their families will live together in this community.
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The entrance has extra height.

Stadsarchief Rotterdam, may 1950

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New inhabitants enjoy their view.

Stadsarchief Rotterdam, july 1949


Various shared facilities were housed in the lower volume, just as in the housing scheme on Vredenoordlaan: an information bureau, a crèche, a garage for ten cars, a café-restaurant and some shops. Owing to the shortage of housing and the first manager’s lack of understanding, little came of many of Van Tijen’s good intentions: ‘the restaurant space was leased to a bank, the crèche became a showroom for a gas company, the extra rooms on the roof were turned into homes for nurses, small families were housed in the flats intended for singles, the flats intended for small families were let to medium- and large-sized families.’

Construction proved much costlier than anticipated. Instead of the estimated 1.8 million guilders, it cost 2.5 million guilders to construct. As a result, rents were much higher than originally anticipated. In 1941 the expected prices were from 26 to 45 guilders per month, but by the time the building had been completed, those figures were from 72 to 92 guilders. It is doubtful whether it housed the intended target group of ‘intellectuals, women with their own profession, students, etc.’ In 1949 Het Vrije Volk commented: ‘The 72 three-room flats and the 48 two-room flats in this building house families from a wide range of nationalities. Here you will hear people speaking Norwegian, Danish, Spanish, English and Dutch. Doctors, engineers, high-ranking civil servants, businessmen and their families will live together in this community.’

2023 Zuidpleinflat ML3

Marlies Lagweweg, Platfcrm Wederopbouw Rotterdan, 2023


In 1970, Van Tijen looked back at his work when he was awarded a state honour for visual art and architecture: ‘I tried to achieve a form of metropolitan living, which would be sensible in itself. Not a scale-defying stack of flats on a lifeless plinth, as we see appearing erratically now.’

The Zuidplein residential block underwent the same evolution as many buildings: gradual decline, a coming and going of residents, and an increasing lack of maintenance, eventually leading to a very dilapidated structure and an object of speculation by the early 1990s. But the renewed attention for post-war reconstruction architecture resulted in renovation work. Zuidpleinflat was declared a state monument in 2010.

2023 Zuidpleinflat ML2

Marlies Lagweweg, Platfcrm Wederopbouw Rotterdan, 2023

2023 Zuidpleinflat ML1

Marlies Lagweweg, Platfcrm Wederopbouw Rotterdan, 2023

W. van Tijen i.s.m. H.A. Maaskant en E.F. Groosman
Zuidpleinflat, Zuidplein, Rotterdam, Nederland
Buildings National Monuments