photo by  Joris Stolwijk

by daan schneider

As Joris Stolwijk’s photoseries shows, Rotterdam is proud of its icons. In 1940, German bombs ripped the city’s beating heart out, resulting in a need for fast post-war construction. The sight of cranes and the sound of pile drivers became part of the city’s essence, and its center became a playground for eccentric architecture. Seemingly anything was allowed; strange designs that would undoubtedly be deemed too subversive for any other Dutch city center raised no protests  in Rotterdam.

But something has changed nowadays. Not so much the city’s incessant construction plans  – many ambitious projects are now underway, among which the soon-to-be tallest building of the Netherlands – but rather its inhabitants’ laissez-faire attitude towards the municipality’s construction plans. Just as Rotterdam is transforming, from Amsterdam’s ugly little sister into an internationally recognized and attractive hotspot, some locals express concerns that this trend threatens the very livability of the city center, which is now supposed to be at its highest since… well, ever.

There’s the Markthal, for instance: a building that looks interesting enough from the outside, but houses an unsightly hotchpotch of overpriced ‘authentic’ foodstands targeting the yuppies  and driving small business owners away from  the area. Or the new art collection storage facility for Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, an eye-catching Anish Kapoor-like blob sure to attract hordes of selfie takers in the future. Rotterdammers have expressed concerns about the building’s ‘autistic’ and anti-social design, as well as its location in Museum Park. They’re afraid it might disturb the park’s ability  to connect the surrounding areas to each other. Last year the city organised a referendum about its plans to demolish social housing, following widespread criticism that demolition was intended to make the city center more appealing for high-income buyers.   

The list goes on. Rotterdam appears afraid of losing itself in its recent popular upsurge, at once excited and terrified of becoming more like Amsterdam. Concerned citizens are speaking out, but this trend seems inevitable.