Old Rotterdammers will still refer to it as the ‘Beurs’ (‘Exchange’) rather than the World Trade Center. Because the Merchants Exchange is still, quite literally, at the root of World Trade Center Rotterdam. In 1928, the architect Jan Frederik Staal won a competition for a multifunctional building, accommodating not only the trade – from the Insurance Exchange to the Potato Exchange and the Shipping Exchange –, but also the Chamber of Commerce, a theatre and shops. It was to be one of the flagship projects along the Coolsingel, where the sights of the Municipality were set high: a city boulevard with global appeal. Partly due to the Depression, it was not until 8th January, 1935, that the first pile was driven into the ground. When, on 14th May, 1940, bombs rained down on the center of Rotterdam, Staal’s Exchange was almost finished. The architect himself had died just a few weeks earlier and never saw his design in Nieuwe Bouwen style (Dutch modernism) completed. The bomb damage was significant, but with a healthy dose of get-up-and-go Rotterdam-style, the various groups of traders soon got their floor anyway. After the war, two office floors was added on the Rodezand side. And in the Sixties, a floor, designed by Arthur Staal – Jan Frederik’s son – was added to the rest of the building. As early as 1968, Rotterdam was contemplating a World Trade Center, a relative new phenomenon at the time, making the port city one of the global World Trade Centers Assocation’s founding members. Originally, it was to be located at Leuvehaven. But many discussions – and several city councils – later, it was decided to transform the Exchange into a World Trade Center, with a 90 metre tower designed by Rob van Erk and Ab Verbeek of Groosman & Partners. Literally and figuratively a tall order, because only the concrete core and eight steel columns cut through the arched roof of the trading floor, with the lowest floor of the tower as a kind of suspended foundation above. Due to a lack of space on-site, no cranes were used and there was nowhere to store building materials. And throughout the entire build, it was business as usual on the trading floor! Of course, this is Rotterdam, where ‘working hard’ takes on an extra dimension. On 25th November, 1987, the new building was opened by Queen Beatrix. Ever since, the oval tower with its grey-green glass façade has been a beacon, with an impact that reaches far beyond the national borders. No wonder this imposing building was declared a National Heritage Site. Rotterdam is a benchmark. World Trade Centers are a benchmark. World Trade Center Rotterdam is an icon.
Four in a row
In 1597, the merchants started trading in the first Exchange, at the corner of Haringvliet and Spaansekade. The fall of the port of Antwerp during the Eighty Years’ War resulted in major capital flight to Rotterdam, where the trade immediately surged. Also thanks to the arrival of British cloth traders, the merchants quickly outgrew their building and in 1635 a new Exchange opened its doors on the northern side of Blaak, a stone’s throw from the current World Trade Center. A century later, in 1736, also along Blaak – an important inner port through to the 19th century –, the third Exchange was designed by artist/architect Adriaen van der Werff in the style of the famous Crystal Palace in London. His design was in use until 1940, when the building was destroyed during the bombing of Rotterdam on 14th May. At that point, the new Exchange designed by architect Jan Frederik Staal was nearing completion a couple dozen yards away, on Coolsingel.