The modernization, bombardment and reconstruction of Rotterdam has created a new city center. The city center attaches itself to the pre-war city at the location of the fire border. Here the contrast between both worlds becomes tangible and visible.

Schakelhoven investigates through the design research the possibilities to reconnect these contrasting spaces.


Michael Herfst


by Michael Herfst

The modernization, bombardment and reconstruction of Rotterdam has created a new city center. The city center attaches itself to the pre-war city at the location of the fire border. Here the contrast between both worlds becomes tangible and visible.

Schakelhoven investigates through the design research the possibilities to reconnect these contrasting spaces.

The pre- and post-war city

Before the war, Rotterdam was already seen and described as a modernist and technological city. Pre-war Rotterdam was also particularly popular as a nightlife city. Visitors came from surrounding cities to the many cinemas, theaters and cafes. Rotterdam was seen as progressive and modern, but the center was far from modern. It was made up of long and narrow streets. Streets with small houses / slums on either side. The open sewer and miserable living conditions resulted in a clean-up of the neighborhoods before the bombing. Demolition of the slums had already started before the war. Buildings such as the new town hall and the post office where the slums had once stood in the center. The city was made healthier.

Rotterdam before the war was already demolished before the bombing. The collective memory of old Rotterdam slowly disappeared before the bombing.

Many small neighborhoods were demolished to make way for the wide roads. The bombing accelerated this development in the city. The 1940 bombing created the possibility and necessity of creating a new city center. After the first debris clearing took place, the question arose what to keep and what to demolish further. The new city planning that was already formed in the 1930s was chosen. The center had to become more accessible, large traffic structures, motorways had to reach the heart of the center. Because of this decision, more has been demolished than necessary.



Fire Boundary

Rotterdam 1890 - 2019





The reconstruction

In 1870, a large part of the peat bogs around the Kralingen area were drained to realize urban expansion. The Noordplas and the surrounding area is not drained. It is being developed as a public park, so that the 19th century green city walk, which previously took place along the canals, the park and the trees, was also possible in the neighborhood Kralingen.

On May 14, 1940, part of Kralingen was destroyed by the Bombardment of Rotterdam. A large bomb hole is created around the Gerdesiaweg. The reconstruction plans of this area introduced a new urban design, with a central park and pavilion-like fringe development, which broke through the original 19th century plan parceled out on the historic urban streak structure. The location of the Schakelhoven project is precisely at this meeting of reconstruction and 19th century city ideals.

Currently, the location is a functionless residual space, where buildings have appeared for several decades and different ideas about urban planning and architecture have been juxtaposed, without seeking rapprochement. The friction between the pre- and post-war city is clearly visible in the location.

  • The pre-war city, the closed city: enclosed, spaciousness, long straight streets, closed building blocks, urban impact structure, ground-based entrances, rich detailing and use of materials.
  • The post-war city, the open city: guidelines, free design, blocks, greenery, porch and gallery access, anonymity freedom in choice of materials and efficiency in construction method / scaling of the detail.

At the fire boundary, an undefined urban residual space has been created at this location. This while this place, at the location of the fire border, has a great symbolic value for the bombed city.

The lack of connection, the collision is a characteristic problem in a number of places where the Rotterdam reconstruction city touches the 19th century city. This friction between the closed pre-war and the open post-war city is the starting point of the design.

Traa 1946

May 1955


Pre-war typologies

Gashouderstraat pre-war
The pre-war buildings on the Gashouderstraat are built on a building-by-building basis. The building blocks are divided into different heights, 2 and 3 layers and are constructed as a plinth, center piece and crown.

The plinth differs in rhythm from the center piece. The facade perforation in the plinth consists of front doors, garage / service doors, and windows. The overlying volumes have a repetitive perforation in which the ratio of the windows is equal after enough. The volumes are ended by means of a cornice. This causes the roof surface to disappear from street level. The facade articulation is placed horizontally with the repetitive bacon bands and is perforated with keystones at the location of the facade.

Sionstraat post-war
The post-war block along the Sionstraat is a typical example of the lean, economically efficient way of building of the 80s – 90s. The large volume stands like a wall in the street. This volume is also built up by means of a plinth and middle section, but the termination is lacking when compared to the pre-war buildings. The plinth on the ground floor has no relation to the street, it is an enclosed gallery. The facade perforation consists of repetitive openings.


The Schakelhoven project seeks to connect the open and closed urban structures, in a new connection of greenery and buildings based on the smaller size, the links. The connection that is enclosed on the one hand but at the same time also offers perspectives on the environment. The attachment of the old and new cities is marked by the fire boundary along which urban residual spaces are located.

At the same time, this meeting between the old and the new city is a unique summary of both urban and architectural diversity and shaped and realized in a century of construction practice.

The links

The switch rooms are both the element between public and private, as well as a living space. They form the entrance and mark the transition. The links are located on different scales, at the level of the city, building block and the home. Each link has its own spatial characteristic and social function with which use and space are related in a new way. The links are always in relationship to each other and seek tensions between;

  1. Enclosure / security (open / closed)
  2. Routing (stay or move)
  3. Privacy (See as a resident, but not be seen)
  4. Natural materials (green / wood vs. hard / stony materials.

The Links
The green urban links function as a stage between the pre-war and reconstruction city, which consists of four different tapered spaces that give a perspective view of the surrounding environment and are slightly elevated from the street. The three stages have their own theme:

  1. West as the access square to both buildings and the connection to the street. The transition from the closed city and the main street to the green open urban space,
  2. South – east, the passage, the buffer zone between the houses and the schools,
  3. Noord, playground of the nursery and the “lighting” of the southern Gashouderstraat “wall”.

The link space at block level is like a foyer, the open communal stairwells and social meeting place within the block form the collective entrance. A space where the resident can acclimatize from the busy city and take the route to their own home with peace of mind.

The link space in the house is shaped like a lodge, a private balcony to the street and the split between the public and private part of the house (sleeping vs. living). This central space is also the entrance.

Urban link spaces as stages on ground level

The collective link space as a foyer and entrance at ground level

The collective link space as a foyer and a view of the floors

The link room in the house as central space

Ground floor, parking, floors 1, 2 & 3

The urban link

The green designed stages are formed by the sculpturality of the two residential blocks in relation to the surroundings. The greenery on these stages accompanies the transition from the pre-war to the post-war city. The ground floor behind the facade is lifted from the ground level by 3 steps, creating a natural separation between private and public. The vertical plinth has been partly converted into ground level. As a result, the building claims an extra measure of the surroundings, the passer-bye naturally takes more distance from the facade. The horizontal accent will be placed on its own pedestal and will once again draw the visitor’s attention to the boundary between private and public.

The Green Stages
The passage; the buffer zone between the schools and the houses, the passage is the connection for the cyclist between the Oude Dijk and the Gerdesiaweg. The children’s square; the “north” square, the enclosed and deepened children’s playground of the nursery. Also the secondary access route of the residential blocks and retains the insolation of the existing south-facing facade wall of the Gashouderstraat.

Functions with the least need for privacy are positioned on the ground floor. As a residential function, for example, the kitchen, offices, nursery and coffee corner. This provides commotion and a switch between use during the day and evening. In the day the use of the plinth is central, in the evening life in the block is characterized by the play of light and silhouettes by the Brazilian masonry.

The link in the block

This is the theatrical entrance at the heart of the court house and both a transitional space and a functional space. The visitor can walk through this freely, the space feels like private. An “unwanted” visitor will experience these “barriers” and not enter them. The size of the court is smaller compared to a traditional courtyard, it is a collective space where a spectacle of light, views and perspectives visually enlarges the space and changes the spatial experience throughout the day.

The sunlight, which revolves around the blocks, enters the court through the views. The courtyards, which are centrally located within the volumes, form wooden rooms that make the transition from the busy city to the home. The city is materialized “hard” with predominantly brick, the Foyer is a room of wood, a contrast between cold and warm. Due to the contrast and the difference in height, the separation between public and private is once again indicated.

The Foyer as a room where the resident can acclimatize and meet. All houses are accessible through the courts, making these important meeting spaces within the increasingly individualistic city, where people are increasingly alienated from each other. Due to the addressing of the house in the Foyer, the blocks are anonymous with regard to the city. The light falls on the higher floors through the frames and invites the resident to come to the street wall. Because of the views and the play of light, the facade is not an anonymous dividing line, but an encounter between both worlds.

No closed walls, always a view or grazing light

Light through the day

The link in the home

The lodge is both the traffic space and the central outdoor space in the house, all residential functions embrace the light of the lodge. The floor plan of the house parallels the street. This contrasts with the original pre-war typology, in which the house is placed at right angles to the facade. The twisting of the floor plan and the introduction of the lodge calls into question the function of the window.

Is the window for sight or for light? Does the window on the street count as a connection with the city or an infringement in the private domain? Due to the introduction of the lodge in the design, the window can be used as an extra element instead of a necessary element.

The lodge is the interspace at residential level between the house and the street. The lodge creates a play of light and dark in the home. This stratification of light and dark is linked to the function of the home. The bathroom is located in the darkest part of the house, the next bedroom and the living room are the brightest part.

Day & night

Family of windows

The integration