The Zomerhofkwartier, Rotterdam
In the beginning of April, the Stipo office moved in to a big yellow building in the Zomerhofkwartier, a little neighborhood tucked away in Rotterdam, just north of the Central Station. The 4.000m2-building has been mostly empty for the past several years. We’re taking on the challenge, along with our partner and owner of the building, Havensteder housing corporation, to strategically fill the building with interesting tenants (people we’d like to work with or along side…or just have lunch with). But that’s only the beginning.
The other part of our task is to get this neighborhood back on the map in Rotterdam. But first, a little history lesson, past to present.
The area that is now called the Zomerhofkwartier dates back to the 15th Century and located in the northern part of the city, adjacent to the central train station and the city centre. It consists of a mix of warehouses, storage facilities, light industry, and low-income housing—activities that have no place in the city centre. From 1875, the number of industrial workers increased in the neighborhood. Around 1900, the Zomerhofkwartier and the adjacent neighborhood, Agniesebuurt, were fully built-out. Small businesses were wedged between the residential homes and along the River Schie stood older family homes and offices. It was a lively, vibrant neighborhood.
The bombardment of 1945 devastated the neighborhood and the entire city center, leaving only rubble and dust. In a short period of time, about 10 years, the neighborhood (and city center) was rebuilt. The new buildings in the Zomerhofkwartier were traditional office buildings of that era—large-scale buildings, some with blank plinths, few doors, and activities focused inward or indoors. Residential homes were not evenly incorporated into the fabric of the neighborhood, the quality of the public realm was sidelined and open space shelved.
As industrial uses left the city, the Zomerhofkwartier continued to be a predominantly office, small business, automotive, and light industrial area. It’s proximity to the centre and train station provide a great benefit to those working there, but it’s often passed over by locals.
Havensteder Housing Corporation is one of the many owners, but responsible for a large majority of the buildings. In the late 90s and early 2000s, Havensteder decided to demolish its existing building stock in the Zomerhofkwartier and rebuild the neighborhood with housing. Slowly, tenants left the Zomerhofkwartier, presuming Havesteder would proceed with their plans. However, the 2006 economic crisis halted everything and thus began the downturn of the neighborhood. Five years later, the neighborhood was even more plagued by vacancy, poor image, disinvestment, and low performance.
In the beginning of 2012, realizing that their plans for a new housing development might never be accomplished, Havensteder sought out partnerships to help turn around the neighborhood, and make the best of it before it gets even worse. We saw the potential of the Zomerhofkwartier (also called ZoHo) and jumped at the chance.