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The vast Rotterdam Timmerhuis was meant to be a beacon of local pride hovering over the city. But it has become a hollow symbol of the city’s big ambitions, spectacular failures – and animosity towards its resident starchitect
A pile of white glass cubes has landed in the centre of Rotterdam, teetering like a stack of shipping containers airlifted from the city’s sprawling port. It rises to two uneven peaks in staggered pixels, like something from the game Sim City abandoned midway through construction.
This is the Timmerhuis – the latest gift to the Netherlands’ second city by its most celebrated architectural practice, OMA, headed up by Rem Koolhaas. Two years ago he completed Holland’s biggest ever building here, momentously named The Rotterdam – another enormous stack of blocks which looms on the riverfront (with most of its luxury flats still unsold).
The Rotterdam may be the biggest, but the Timmerhuis is of greater significance – for the direction that both Koolhaas and the entire city are heading in.
Tucked behind the city hall and the old central post office, it stands on the site of the 15th-century Stadstimmerhuis, once home to the city carpenter and storehouse of building materials for major public works. Flattened by bombs in the second world war, like most of the city, it was rebuilt as the central planning office and became the very place where Rotterdam’s ambitious post-war vision was laid out – a seminal plan that would inspire similar modernist urban plans around the world.
It seems only fitting, then, that the pixelated glacier which now rises from the site is the perfect reflection of Rotterdam’s current predicament – a place of bold ambitions, vain hopes and spectacular failures. […]