Rotterdam 2007 City of Architecture Opens

Since January 1, 2007, the Erasmus Bridge has been illuminated by purple floodlights to mark the start of the Year of Architecture in Rotterdam. On Wednesday 17 January Mayor Ivo Opstelten presented the programme. What can we expect from and in Rotterdam this year?

‘This will be a fantastic year! Architecture will be the theme for 2007. Right from the start of the twentieth century Rotterdam has been internationally renowned for its progressive architecture. Innovative structures determine the face of the city. Few other cities possess so much architecture and architectural history per square metre,’ according to Mayor Opstelten during the opening of the architecture year in a packed Bijenkorf restaurant (just one of the 40 buildings that can be visited this year within the framework of the Sites & Stories programme).

One might debate the status of Rotterdam as an architecture city. The point has occasionally been made of late that the gloss of recent decades is fading. Not long ago the Rotterdam Council for Culture noted a certain lethargy in Rotterdam, but that comment was mainly directed at current policy. The ‘Rotterdam architecture collection’ is still as strong as ever and is expanding daily.

When it comes to the organisation of the Year of Architecture, however, there’s absolutely no sign of lethargy. Project head Pieter Kuster went through a few exciting examples of activities scheduled for the coming year and was almost proud to apologise for the fact that he couldn’t mention all the more the fifty larger and smaller activities.

The most appealing event for both professionals and architecture tourists is Sites & Stories. This event focuses on the architecture in the city. Forty buildings in the city centre that represent the century-old history of modern Rotterdam play the leading roles in an event that consists of an audio tour, decors and activities in these buildings. Visiting buildings is always enjoyable, but this time it’s even more enjoyable because it includes texts narrated by architects, a brief history and sometimes music. This is an excellent opportunity to walk by the Peperklip again and hear Carel Weeber explain why he doesn’t care about the criticism, or hear a window cleaner wax lyrical about the very idea of washing a huge expanse of glass on the Delftse Poort building, or listen to an old margarine advertisement during a visit to the former Unilever Building. It’s all possible from April 5 on.

Among the other scheduled activities is City Experiences, in which architects, artists and theatre makers propose interventions in the urban space. On May 14 the boundary of the fire caused by the bombing in May 1940 will be visualised. Conny Jansen will dance on the RDM shipyard. The illumination of the Erasmus Bridge is just the start; many more buildings will be illuminated by international lighting artists during the year. Architecture Day, the Skyscraper Week and the Building Site Festival will all have a special touch this year. In 2007 the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam will be held for the third time and WiMBY! (Welcome into My Backyard!) will present its latest plans for Hoogvliet. In addition, Follydock will construct fantasy structures at Heijplaat, and the NAi will stage three impressive exhibitions, among them the first retrospective devoted to Le Corbusier.

Perhaps the most interesting event for professionals will be Reviewing Rotterdam. AIR will repeat the successful ‘inspector project’ held in the late 1970s in which Kenneth Frampton, Stanislaus von Moos and Fransisco dal Co cast their critical gaze on the architecture built at that time. Reviewing Rotterdam presents the architecture of the last 30 years for appraisal to three international critics: Michael Speaks (United States), Angelika Schnell (Germany) and Jaime Salazar (Spain). Their views will be presented and discussed at a conference in the autumn when an extensive publication will also be issued. The book will contain not only the critics’ conclusions but also a series of essays and studies on what has been built, the architectural climate, and architectural policy over the past 30 years. Perhaps all this will mark the start of a new spirit of architecture in Rotterdam, just as it did 30 years ago.

In the meantime there’s so much to do during the coming year that enthusiasts are advised to set up a temporary pied-à-terre in the city. A few attractive apartments are still available, and a lot more will be completed this year.