Hoogkwartier

Hoogkwartier is the neighbourhood around the second stretch of Hoogstraat, from Mariniersweg to Oostplein. Bordered by Groenendaal, Mariniersweg and Goudsesingel, this wedge-shaped area formed the eastern section of the city triangle. Before the bombardment, the centre of the city lay further to the east than it now is, and Hoogstraat was an important shopping street, with cinemas and nightlife venues — the ‘Kalverstraat of Rotterdam’. On Saturdays, many Rotterdammers strolled back and forth along the length of Hoogstraat from Coolsingel to Oostplein. In 1905 there were even plans to locate the new city hall at Oostplein. With the construction of the city hall on Coolsingel and the location of the Lijnbaan shopping precinct, the centre shifted much further westwards after the war. Hoogstraat therefore became a victim of the reconstruction.

Before the bombardment, the centre of the city lay further to the east than it now is, and Hoogstraat was an important shopping street, with cinemas and nightlife venues — the ‘Kalverstraat of Rotterdam’.

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Rubble being cleared between Hoogstraat and Groenendaal in 1940. On the left is Groenendaal, and in the background is the Noord windmill at Oostplein.Rotterdam City Archives, XXXIII 569.37.01-2

Quickly rebuilt

Hoogkwartier was rebuilt fairly quickly after the war and has changed very little since then. Development consists of rather traditional perimeter blocks with four to seven floors of apartments around the edges, with occasional taller residential structures on prominent sites. Shops and commercial spaces occupy the ground floors. A notable feature is the widespread network of service streets and courtyards. The latter, from where the shops are stocked, are accessed through fairly inconspicuous entrances. As a result, the main shopping streets experience no disruption from loading and unloading delivery trucks.

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Design of service street.Source: Het nieuwe hart van Rotterdam, 1946
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Service street in 1954. AD: Archive of Het Vrije Volk

Service courtyards

The service courtyard is often attributed to Van Traa, but it had already appeared in the first plans by Witteveen, as illustrated by this report in the Dagblad van Rotterdam of 25 October 1941.

Also of note was the announcement by Witteveen, that a large number of proposed building blocks would contain so-called ‘service courtyards’. This is a totally new idea from Witteveen, who hopes it will keep the streets of Rotterdam clear of busy delivery traffic. A service courtyard is therefore a converted space at the rear of the buildings where loading and unloading can occur without difficulty.

However, Rein Blijstra indicates that the idea did not originate with Witteveen:

The idea to construct service streets stems from the peculiar situation created even before the war in St. Laurensstraat, parallel to Hoogstraat. At the time, the big shops on Hoogstraat already had their rear entrances on St. Laurensstraat, and deliveries were loaded and unloaded from St. Laurensstraat and not from Hoogstraat. St. Laurensstraat had therefore already ‘grown’ to become a service street. This ‘chance’ example was therefore consciously followed in the construction of the next service streets, albeit in a totally altered form.

Het Vrije Volk 06-06-1952

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In 1958 the firm of Willemsen built at office complex at Oostplein to a design by H.A. Maaskant. Renovation work has seriously disfigured the building.Rotterdam City Archives, GW-5083

Activity

A service street also extends through the Industrial Building on Goudsesingel. Besides this building, the area was home to some office complexes and many commercial buildings. There were a few buildings of note, among them a hotel, the former municipal printers, the now demolished Emporium conference centre, and a work centre for blind people, now occupied by an auction house. Two sites in the area have been redeveloped. In the early 1980s Jan Hoogstad designed a big housing complex for the open site on Kipstraat, and in 2000 a residential complex for the elderly, the Mariniershof, replaced the Emporium. Both complexes are bigger in scale than the surrounding development, but blend into the urban tissue.

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The Hoogkwartier district contained a lot of space for businesses like the City Printworks, 1963.Rotterdam City Archives
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The Emporium building by Cornelis Elffers in 1951. Used for events, celebrations and gatherings, the building was demolished at the end of the twentieth century. Rotterdam City Archives

Balcony railings

The architecture of the Hoogkwartier district is, in general, sober and functional. Most complexes were designed by reliable Rotterdam architecture firms: Vermeer & Van Herwaarden, Hendriks Van der Sluys Van den Bosch, Fiolet, Nefkens and Margry. Some decoration is visible in the oldest complexes, among them the Institute for the Blind and the first housing complex on Groenendaal. In later structures, architectural elements add decorative highlights such as balcony railings, parapets, canopies, hoisting beams and eaves. Highlights are also created through the façade rhythm of entrance porches, recessed roof structures, and special corner solutions emphasised by materials, brick courses, mosaics and prefabricated concrete elements, and through novelties such as television windows and rounded corners. Pitched roofs soon gave way to flat roofs. The residential block on Groenendal by Maaskant is an example of unadulterated modernism, its elongated form horizontally articulated by fenestration, balconies and strips of sunshades.

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For years the railway viaduct formed a barrier between the centre and the eastern section of the city centre.Photo J. Roovers, archive Voet C0562

Barriers

As so few alterations have been made to most of the buildings, Hoogkwartier is in fact a very intact ensemble and one of the few post-war reconstruction districts that is still homogeneous. The biggest problem for Hoogkwartier is its poor connection with the rest of the centre. Initially, the centre ended at Vroom & Dreesmann on Beursplein, and only much later was Hoogstraat developed as far as Binnenrotte. The railway viaduct and the undeveloped expanse of Binnenrotte formed an insurmountable obstacle. The area remained undeveloped for a long time on account of plans to construct a huge traffic intersection and a possible railway tunnel. Right from the start, a second barrier was the new, broad Mariniersweg, designed as a traffic route leading to the bridges over the Maas.

It was not until 1958 that the weekly market returned to the centre. The big Twaalf Provinciën shopping centre was planned as a major attraction but quickly proved a failure.

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The Twelve Provinces shopping centre, built in 1955, never became the intended attraction on the second section of Hoogstraat.Rotterdam City Archives Collection of Public Works Department, L-2306

“The New Market and the adjoining Pannekoekstraat and Hoogstraat do not lie ‘along the route’. The public cannot get there very easily from the centre — Beursplein or Meent — by walking to the shops around Mariniersweg. Not one single shop in this area possesses enough appeal to attract people across the bare building sites near the viaduct.”

Het Vrije Volk 26-10-1956

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Goudsesingel in the early 1950s, from beneath the portico of the Industry Building. National Archive

Today

From the 1960s on it was clear that Hoogstraat, Groenendaal and Goudsesingel would no longer be the vibrant shopping streets they once were. They started to attract more and more specialist shops that did not rely on passers-by. Changing consumer habits led to the disappearance of most shops that sold foodstuffs, and all that is now left is a big Albert Heijn supermarket and some specialist stores. The relatively low rents on Hoogstraat offer opportunities for young entrepreneurs. More and more specialist shops and trendy cafés are opening in the area, which is home to exactly the type of people that Rotterdam wants to attract: relatively young, well educated, creative and dynamic.

Andor von Barsy

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