How Rotterdam’s climate architecture is putting it on the tourist map

TThe farming scene before me is typically Dutch: Tulips and daffodils lean toward the sun, rows of vegetables peek their frilly heads across the dirt, and chickens peck snacks on the ground. It’s just that I’m in the urban heart of Rotterdam. I’ve just crossed the Coolsingel’s six lanes of traffic and climbed the concrete steps of a 1960s office building to a roof seven stories above.

The 1,000 m² DakAkker (roof pitch), home to the bustling Teds brunch cafe, is the largest rooftop farm in the Netherlands, serving local businesses with fresh produce, generating solar energy and storing 9,000 liters of rainwater to reduce flooding and extinguish droughts. From rooftops like this one, visitors can marvel at the patchwork city; the mirrored skyscrapers and brutalist giants dwarf the few monumental buildings remaining, acting as contrasting emblems of Rotterdam’s past and present.

Best known for its dramatic architecture that rose from the ashes of WWII devastation, the Netherlands’ second-largest city now faces a new threat as rising sea levels, caused by global warming, once again tests the city’s resilience. City. However, Rotterdam’s innovative solutions to the challenges it faces only make it more of a destination.

Urban farm fun in DakAkker

(Karin Oppelland)

The Depot building, for example – a colossal mirrored bowl filled with art treasures whose tiny footprint is designed to withstand flooding – won a slew of awards when it became the first publicly accessible art depot last year, housing the vast Boijmans Van Beuningen’s collection of Dutch works as the flooded museum is remodeled. The Depot has no roof cover; have a forest instead.

Tall and dry is a good thing when your city has one of the highest flood risks in Europe, and the Rooftop Days Festival Rotterdam (May/June) is an annual celebration of life on high with rooftop shows, camping, dinner and dancing. ; and this year a breathtaking Rooftop Walk, with specially designed aerial bridges connecting the roofs of iconic buildings in the center of the city.

Come in June and you will also see Rotterdam Architecture Month. The main attraction is The Podium, a temporary stage on the roof of the Het Nieuwe Instituut architecture and design museum, accessed via an impressive external staircase that runs through the building like a neon pink stripe.

Visitors can marvel at the patchwork city; the mirrored skyscrapers and brutalist giants outnumber the few monumental buildings left

But fancy roofs aren’t just for attracting visitors. With a flat roof of 18 km², the city also sees high-altitude reforestation as a mitigation against global warming. “Eighty-five percent of our city is below sea level – this emphasizes the need to adapt to the climate,” explains Deputy Mayor Vincent Karremans. “One of the ways to do that is to add more green.”

Seven projects – ups and downs – costing more than €300m (£254bn) will transform this car-centric city, adding 100,000m² of parkland within a decade. In addition to boosting tourism, the new landscape will capture more CO2, reduce heat stress, promote biodiversity and absorb around 4,400 m³ of floodwater. “It helps us achieve many goals in one,” says Karremans.

In the Delfshaven district, visitors can now take a guided tour of the city’s eight-acre Dakpark, a rooftop park with an herb garden, beehives and roaming sheep that has become a popular local hangout. Meanwhile, winding over the north of Rotterdam, and visible from my vantage point on the DakAkker, is a disused railway viaduct being converted, thanks to local architects De Urbanisten, into the climate-adapted Hofbogenpark – a verdant 2km long walkway. with water resources due to open in 2024.

Pack a floating bar, available for rent at H2OTEL


Huddled under the viaduct’s 189 arches, there’s already plenty to explore. Try a staple of the Dutch diet at We Say Cheese; spend an evening at BIRD, a music venue with a restaurant and garden; or browse vinyl at Clone Records and De Oorzaak. This once seedy part of town now has its own Michelin-starred restaurant, FG Food Labs.

For climate-friendly cuisine, try Aloha in the Kralingen district, a low-waste restaurant located in an abandoned 1980s tropical swimming paradise, now part of the Blue City, a hub for green-minded entrepreneurs. Inventive sharing dishes keep coming, including a vegetarian version of Dutch bitterballen (breadcrumbs with a sticky center) made from oyster mushrooms grown on coffee grounds and served with a – surprisingly tasty – coffee mayonnaise sauce. (€6.50).

From here, I board an electric water taxi for an exhilarating ride under the harp-shaped Erasmus Bridge and upriver to Rijnhaven, a tranquil harbor exploring ways to work with the ubiquitous water that defines Rotterdam and puts it in peril. A €70 million redevelopment project is underway here to create 18 hectares of tidal park with urban beaches and floating parks as land use evolves from industrial to ecological and social.

The climate-adapted Hofbogenpark, 2 km long

(Guido Pijper for Rotterdam Partners)

Across the water, I see Wikkelboats: tiny houseboats built from recycled cardboard — some with hot tubs — and the latest trend in climate-friendly accommodations here.

There’s more floating fun on Wijnhaven to the north. The floating H₂OTEL has buoyant boats with pilotable bars around the harbor, while the eccentric gastro pub and concert venue V11, a 1950s “light boat” painted red like a fire engine, rents electric hotTugs. − adjustable and steaming Jacuzzis that keep passengers warm regardless of the weather.

Back in Rijnhaven, the only hint of the district’s flamboyant past is the cheeky restaurant Putaine (whore), where I have a glass of champagne. Furnished in pink and featuring a natural swimming pool, the elegant glass-walled establishment is part of a gigantic wooden-built floating office complex that houses the international headquarters of the Global Adaptation Center.

The city has been subsidized for so long, no wonder she wants to scream from the rooftops

For dinner, though, I’m going to Putaine’s older sister Héroine back on the mainland. Here I sit down to a five-course menu (€58) with melt-in-your-mouth amuse-bouches and a dessert of apple sorbet, peanut butter and crispy beetroot – all served in an unflattering (but listed) hull of a typical building. of the functionalist architecture that is everywhere here and very easy to misjudge.

In fact, the city was sold so long ago that it’s no wonder she wants to scream from the rooftops. “We’ve really come a long way in the last 20 years in Rotterdam,” says Léon van Geest, director of Rooftop Days, as we visit the Groene Kaap housing estate in Katendrecht, recently voted the best roof in the Netherlands. “It’s not just something for tourists, but for the people of Rotterdam to be proud of their city.

“When you’re on the rooftops, you think, ‘This is my city. Wow.'”

Putaine Restaurant has its own natural pool

(Sophia van den Hoek)

travel essentials

Getting there

A direct Eurostar service from London arrives in Rotterdam in around four hours.

staying there

Deborah stayed at The Slaak Rotterdam and was hosted by Rotterdam Partners.

More information

Rotterdam’s Rooftop Walk runs from May 26 to June 24, 2022. Rotterdam Architecture Month runs throughout June, but the Podium will remain open until August 17.

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