Expeditie Rotterdam or the quest for hidden space in the inner city
This innovative graduation project takes an in-depth look at Rotterdam's perimeter block type with service yard (expeditiebouwblok, hence the title) with the aim of giving the hidden space in this post-war urban fabric a new lease of life. The design for one such block (Sint-Janshof) in Hoogkwartier, an area in the eastern part of Rotterdam's inner city, comprises work and retail space at ground level and 42 housing units accessed from the communal deck. It sees opportunities to achieve the desired increase in the number of dwellings in inner city areas. This would enrich urban public space in the process as well as preserve the reconstruction-era architecture.
The German bombardment of 1940 gave Rotterdam the freedom to acquire a new type of inner city. During the post-war reconstruction, a more spacious urban layout was chosen appropriate to the modernist car ideology. This introduced the service courtyard block rather than the traditional perimeter block with gardens. Service streets and yards, hidden behind gateways in the central space, together provide a secondary network with a distinctive ambience that is more than just rears of buildings.
The service streets were intended for heavy transport bringing in provisions for shops, business units, bars and restaurants. Some 70 years later, this role has become outdated by the change in logistics and the shift in the economy from goods to services. As a result this type of urban space is generally free of bustle; the streets are not part of the shopping circuit and there is nothing here for visitors. All in all, the design covers 25 football pitches worth of public space; secluded places with room for development. And Rotterdam is booming, with a pressing need to compact the city and intensify it by adding dwellings to the inner urban areas.
In the design proposal for Sint-Janshof, a courtyard block with pairs of straight service streets, the courtyard has been injected with urban life by transforming those streets into a succession of hidden public spaces; a deck designed atop the existing business premises in the middle of the block complete with communal spaces and integrated residential towers engages with the existing housing round about. The deck, the towers and their materialization in glass and steel make reference to modern architecture and update it. When adding new build to an existing city block, it is important to use light materials and glass to allow in as much daylight as possible. The strategy of using original modernist principles in the perspective of contemporary technology and programming brings a new dynamic. This working method, proceeding from knowledge of the existing situation to the following stage in a meaningful city, is a condition for sustainable reuse. This graduation project steps off from the current transitional briefs and looks 20 to 30 years ahead. It is a solution we could embark on tomorrow.
The amount of space in this service courtyard block is exceptional for Rotterdam. But there are other post-war cities and smaller towns that have backstreets and in-between spaces that allow for new forms of urban architecture.