On May 14 1940 the face of the Dutch port of Rotterdam changed forever: an aerial bombardment by the Luftwaffe destroyed almost all the medieval heart of the city, leaving close to 900 people dead. With the second world war over, city planners sought to rebuild Rotterdam in a resolutely modern and, as the years passed, often ambitious style.
The latest addition to the city’s high-rise skyline is De Rotterdam – the biggest building in the Netherlands, 150 metres high and with a footprint the size of a football pitch – which mixes 240 new homes, offices, restaurants and a hotel, the Nhow Rotterdam. De Rotterdam, completed last November, was designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and calls itself a “vertical city”. It is on the southern bank of the river Maas on the Wilhelminapier, a piece of land that is the cornerstone of this revitalised city section dubbed Manhattan-on-the-Maas.
From a distance, it looks as if Koolhaas drew four towers standing on a shared plinth and then cut each one in half and rearranged them haphazardly. Like all challenging architecture, De Rotterdam splits opinion among locals, but its size and waterfront position make it inescapable.
“Although De Rotterdam is a ‘vertical city’, the idea isn’t that you never have to leave but, rather, that there are people doing things in the building 18 or 19 hours a day,” says Mischa Molsbergen of MAB Development, the scheme’s developer.
Of the 240 apartments, 60 have been set aside for rental and just under half of the remaining units are either sold or under option. Molsbergen says De Rotterdam has proved a hit with young professionals seeking an ultra-urban living experience, but also with Dutch couples in pre-retirement mode, whose children have left home.
At night, the lights of Rotterdam’s Europoort – the largest port in Europe – glimmer to the west, while north-facing apartments have fine views of the Erasmus Bridge and the city centre across the Maas. The bridge’s opening in 1996 kick-started development of this southern bank of the river, which is now a cultural hub, with a theatre – the new Luxor – and LantarenVenster, a music venue and art house cinema.
True to the mixed-use nature of De Rotterdam – and maybe disconcertingly – some bedrooms face offices. Molsbergen says buildings that mix offices and homes have the advantage that parking spaces are used more evenly as residents and office workers are likely to need them at different times of the day.
A 127 sq metre two-bedroom, one-bathroom unit on the 41st floor of De Rotterdam with views of Erasmus Bridge and the north bank of the Maas through ceiling-to-floor windows is on sale for €538,100.
Meanwhile, a 570 sq metre apartment covering the entire 39th floor of the Montevideo building – another recently built residential tower on the Wilhelminapier – has an asking price of €2.95m through Graal Makelaardij. The open-plan unit has three en suite bedrooms, one with a Jacuzzi.
“In larger cities in the Netherlands about 10 per cent of the population lives in the inner city. But in Rotterdam the figure is just 5 per cent, which translates into 32,000 inhabitants. The municipality aims to double this number by 2040 – in fact, once all the apartments in De Rotterdam are occupied, this section of the city will be the most densely populated area in the Netherlands,” says Ronald Schneider, deputy mayor with responsibility for city development and integration.
Rotterdam, which also boasts Piet Blom-designed “cube houses” on Overblaak Street, offers attractive options for low-rise living, too. Just under 1km from the city’s central train station is the Meent, a street of boutiques and bistros. It makes for a bustling, if functional, residential area with many houses dating from the 1950s and 1960s.
“The Meent has become a kind of promenade,” says estate agent Rogier Soeters of Vinck Makelaardij. “It’s where people go to see, and be seen.” A recently renovated 88 sq metre, two-bedroom, one-bathroom unit on the second floor of a four-storey building on Pannekoekstraat is available for €185,000 through Vinck Makelaardij.
Rotterdam’s modern, postwar centre is mainly where people go to work, while the suburbs are chiefly dormitory spaces. As a result, the city centre’s trendy residential areas are dispersed. The reverse is true in Amsterdam, where the largely 17th-century historical core is predominantly residential and many people commute to offices in the periphery. This difference complicates like for-like comparisons between the cities. However, a search of www.funda.nl, a Dutch property portal, shows units of around 90 sq metres in Amsterdam’s Oude Pijp neighbourhood (a very approximate equivalent of the Meent) have asking prices of around €400,000.
According to Statistics Netherlands, prices of owner-occupied homes, excluding newbuilds, were on average 0.1 per cent higher in April 2014 than April 2013, the first price rise in five years and a hint (possibly) that the Dutch housing slump may be nearing an end. Prices are still 19.9 per cent below the record level in August 2008, however.
Added to that, the demand for owner-occupied properties is growing: in the first four months of 2014, 39,743 homes were sold across the country, a rise of more than 34 per cent compared with the same period last year. But the rebound in prices is clearest in Amsterdam, where house prices rose 2.6 per cent in April 2014 versus April 2013. In Rotterdam the market registered almost no movement during this 12-month period.
● In April the median price of a home in the Netherlands was €220,136 (Statistics Netherlands)
● Rotterdam was granted its city charter in 1340
● Europe’s first skyscraper – the 10-floor Witte Huis – was built in Rotterdam in 1898
What you can buy for …
€250,000 A 90 sq metre two-bedroom unit in a city-centre block
€1.15m A two-bedroom flat on the 38th floor of the Montevideo building
€5m A renovated 800 sq metre villa in the Hillegersberg district
Photographs: Ossip van Duivenbode; Robert Harding