René Sommer Documentary Photography



On May 14, 1940 the city centre of Rotterdam was largely destroyed by a German bombardment during World War II. The bombers eventually dropped around 100 tons on the medieval heart of Rotterdam’s commercial district. A square mile of the city was virtually flattened. Nearly a thousand people were killed, although war time estimates by the Allies put the figure at 25-30,000.


During the post-war reconstruction of the city in 1960s, ’70s and ’80s modernist Dutch architecture stands alongside the characteristic historic buildings. These historic buildings clash cheerfully with the hypermodern skyscrapers built in more recent decades.


Even before the reconstruction era, Rotterdam was known for its groundbreaking architecture like first gallery apartment building in the Netherlands (the Bergpolder flat) by Van Tijen. The Van Nelle Factory even made it onto the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2014.


The city council’s courageous decision to depart from tradition entirely in 1940 was radical. Rather than reconstructing the old city in its former style, they opted for a spacious city plan and modern architecture. Light, air and space: that was the motto. The Lijnbaan was the first car-free shopping boulevard in the Netherlands. The Erasmus Bridge, Kunsthal, Koopgoot, Markthal and The Rotterdam by Rem Koolhaas are examples of architecture that have been crucial in Rotterdam’s process of becoming the city it is today.


Rotterdam is number 10 on the short list of cities to be visited published by the New York Times.