If you don’t feel like reading the whole passage the most important facts of the day can be found in the video embedded at the bottom. Enjoy! (specifically 1:13)
Our second big group outing outside of Amsterdam was also our longest, the day trip to Rotterdam. Bright and early at 8:55am the troops headed out to the Amsterdam Centraal Train Station, the majority taking the scenic route past NEMO and the Amsterdam Library, while three intrepid caffeine addicts (Avery, Jenny and I) ran ahead to go to Starbucks. It was, by the way, totally worth it.
Making our way up to Platform 13a, where the rest of the group had already convened, we received our tickets and promptly jumped on the train into the luxury of First Class seating. Did I notice any difference between First and Second? No, but it’s the principle of the thing that counts. The train ride over was pretty calm, we worked out logic puzzles, silently rocked out to the iPod or quietly chatted. Once the train pulled into Rotterdam Centraal, Rob quickly ushered us out of the Station and out into a new city where he informed the group of the nature of our trip, “The city itself is what we’re here to look at, to look at as a contrast with Amsterdam.” Aha! Today was going to be an informative look into how architecture shaped the city of Rotterdam, post WWII bombings, as well as giving the students a whole new appreciation for how the buildings interact with the environment.
We started our walking tour immediately with Rob leading us to Schouwbergplein, designed by the architecture firm West 8 to activate and engage the average passerby’s with the space. With a “stage-like” feeling to the square, the architects designed to raise the ground up 35cm from the sidewalk in order for people to be stimulated and want to interact with the space. Schouwbergplein was also complete with hydraulic lights that can be controlled by anyone walking past, and a timed fountain, which a few brave souls decided to test out, but fortunately they didn’t get wet.
From there we marched on to the Kunsthal, designed by Rem Koolhaas of OMA, which reflected Koolhaas’ style as a post-modern architect. Looking at the building Rob gave us a background of why it was built the way it was, and pointing out little differentiations within the facade. The tongue-like ramp, and exposed cooling system, variations on the glass bottom that broke up the tautness of the brick box on top. I wouldn’t have seen any of this, but once it was pointed out I did get the “sense of play” within the design, as well as the perverse-ness of the building that came as a reaction to the “sterility” of the plain buildings from earlier eras, like the Sonneveld Hus. It was a brilliantly designed building by one of the foremost architects alive, however, I still think it was kinda ugly.
Walking inside to the René Burri photography exhibit, which included a famous portrait of Ché Guevara, I continued to observe the slightly odd interior of the building, with sloping ceilings and a cafe that could only be accessed by exiting the museum and going to a different entrnce. The most amusing exhibit by far though was on the Tour de France, which included racing bikes, an interactive video and a make-your-own jersey area. After touring the area for around a half-hour and trying to find the hidden cafe for another 20 minutes, we finally asked and found the second entrance outside where all our compatriots were already eating. Avery and I quickly ordered a mozzarella and pesto tosti, which was well worth the €4.75. As we were running a little bit behind schedule at this point, there wasn’t much discussion on our impressions of the Kunsthal museum or what we found there, as the person who we sent to inform Rob and Clifford of the group’s location failed in their duty. Anyway, we soon boarded a tram that took us back to Rotterdam Centraal, where we picked up our bikes and Ivan, our tour amazing hipster European tour guide. Avery, Jenn, Ann and Will couldn’t join us for the ride, and went by taxi instead.
First thing on the three hour cycle tour was an introduction to the history of Rotterdam, when it was bombed in WWII, the areas where the bombs struck, and the subsequent rebuilding that when on as time progressed: the car became widely used, skyscrapers came into fashion, and a separation of shopping, working and living spaces was built into the city. We then stopped at the bridge separating North and South Amsterdam and rode on to the where Holland America used to dock their cruise ships, all while Ivan and Rob informed us of the meaning behind the buildings, and how each one was at one point the tallest building in Rotterdam. I found oneupmanship of all the architects pretty amusing. We also stopped to look at Rem Koolhaas’ next project “The Rotterdam,” which is going to be the new tallest building in the Netherlands.
From there we made our way to the living museum located in De Kiefhoek, as a tribute to the horrible living conditions the poorest used to have to endure, and how that changed when the government passed the “Living Law” which stated that every Dutch citizen had the right to habitable housing. While it was well meaning, Ivan did point out a few aspects of the unit that showed the class tensions present in the Netherlands at that time. The kitchens were designed without cupboards under the sink because the municipality believed that the tenants would be either too stupid or unhygienic to correctly dispose of their garbage and would instead store it under the sink, as well as designing the window sills to be higher than normal so women wouldn’t shout to one another from their homes. The houses were also designed without showers, as the builders thought it was too much of a luxury, so the inhabitants would have to bring back buckets of boiling water in order to bathe. The taxi carrying the other members of the group ended up being late, so we stayed at De Keifhoek longer then planned, and the bikers got to explore the space a bit more. Walking up just one block I noticed how isolated it felt, I had no idea there was a main street and a market just feet from where we had been standing earlier. The closed-off nature seemed to be to insulate the community there and since every other aspect of the neighborhood was closely planned, I wondered what the idea behind the isolation must have been.
Soon after that the taxi showed, Avery, Jenn and Ann got to tour the museum and off we went to return our bikes after our meandering tour. After we had settled up with the tour office Rob gave the students the task of directing our way back to Schouwbergplein, and with one exception of us having no idea where it was initially, we got there with little difficulty and it was time for dinner. We went for Chinese, which Avery, Sabra and I were a little apprehensive about because the cuisine isn’t the most veggie friendly, (and I’ll own up to the fact I ended up a pescetarian that night) it ended up being delicious. Suffice to say I ate an entire plate of fried rice while others polished off 5 courses of the Menus A, B and D(uck).
Incredibly sleepy from my food coma, I don’t remember much about the train ride back. It was if anything quieter than the ride there as people slowly decompressed from our long day. Once we got back to Amsterdam it was straight to bed.