TEXT: TANYA VAN DER SPEK | PHOTOGRAPHY: ANTIM
Rotterdam Central District is a VIP area. An influential development location and economic driver that affects the entire city. Development of this kind requires the guidance of a clear vision. That’s where the O-team comes in.
When you exit the station to the left, you don’t exactly think ‘I’d like to meet up here’ or ‘Let me sit on a bench and enjoy the view’. While you would expect a transfer area between station and downtown to be livelier. “Once you go further into RCD, all you see is brick, the backside of office buildings and parking garages,” says Marcus Fernhout of the O-team and founder of Cambridge Innovation Center Rotterdam. That didn’t matter before. “Workers parked their cars in the morning and left again right after work,” explains Kees van Oorschot, RCD process manager at the municipality. But times are changing.
“Offices are becoming more like hives,” describes Marius Meurs of the RCD Association, former director of the Groot Handelsgebouw and now advisor under the name Falcon Street Support. “People fly in and swarm to meet with others in the area.” There is opportunity here; there is room for development. But who can build what and with which purpose? Marius Meurs: “The RCD Association exists for over ten years now. A good moment to reflect: where do we stand and what should our focus be for the future?” We asked the O-team for advice.
The ‘O’ in O-team stands for ‘Ontwerpkracht voor opdrachtgevers’, or in English: ‘Power of Design for Clients’. As part of the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, the O-team provides support for complex assignments at urban development locations. The key question: ‘What needs to happen in RCD to stimulate the economy and innovation, and make it more attractive as a sustainable living and working environment?’ The O-team turned to three specialists for their expertise: STIPO, DELVA Landscape Architects and DONA Stedenbouw.
STIPO and DONA Stedenbouw cite international comparative research from the well-known Brookings Institute. What they learned? Innovation districts with the fastest economic growth have personal interaction at their core. Encounters with both acquaintances and new people from organizations other than your own. How to do that? Accessibility is one aspect. RCD excels in this area. Also, atmosphere is important.
STIPO highlights in its study ‘Sense of Place’ that the relatively closed, street level – the plinths – in RCD need to be opened up. Marcus Fernhout: “Large windows instead of walls, and decorative façades. The district needs its own identity, so people feel at home and like to spend time here. ‘Hyper-caffeinated’, with inviting coffee houses.” There should be plenty of interaction between indoor and outdoor areas. Lunch cafés where you can meet or come to work on your laptop, or shops with personal care products. Also, Fernhout doesn’t exclude the arrival of a hip cocktail bar. Finally, there has to be a program, with neighborhood happy hours or conferences.
In the report ‘Innovation Centre’, DONA Stedenbouw emphasizes that innovation can be achieved by inviting a university, student housing or a research center, for example, to relocate to the area. This way, smart ideas can be turned into smart products for the commercial market. Naturally, an enjoyable environment should include greenery. In another study, ‘Urban Healthy Living’, DELVA Landscape Architects suggests a practical solution for the lack of outdoor area. Minimize parking and add trees or create a micro park. Buildings need to become part of the greening strategy; hanging plants from façades, enhancing courtyards and building green rooftops and tree rooms as public spaces.
Kees van Oorschot is enthusiastic. “These are valuable contributions. It reopens the conversation with companies and owners and tenants of the buildings. We have to do this together.” Marius Meurs calls the recommendations ‘very refreshing’. “I truly believe that if you want to secure the future, you have to start now!” Van Oorschot agrees, “Absolutey. We are currently speaking with building owners. The owner of Delftse Poort is already looking very concretely at what can be done in terms of shops and restaurants to open up to passers-by. If we each contribute to making the sidewalks greener and incorporating outdoor sitting areas, then everyone is solving part of the problem.”