Tuesday, August 9, 2016

my private rotterdam... cinematic mise-en-scène

I arrived in Rotterdam with a 75-year-old story on my mind, a story that my father-in-law had told our family many times and then written about vividly in his ongoing memoir. 
He was sixteen years old when he witnessed the first German Luftwaffe landing on the River Maas while standing on the Oosterkade bank of the river directly across from Noordereiland (North Island) where I was staying at a lovely AirBnB (and where my father-in-law's father had his office as the manager of a ship-building company).
His brother had even managed to photograph the event before his camera was confiscated by a Dutch policeman who was soon shot down by the invading Germans. A few days later, Rotterdam was bombed into submission and the Battle of the Netherlands was quickly over, but Holland remained occupied until 1945.
The camera was retrieved from the dead policeman and returned to the family later on that same momentous day, but the film had been removed - and to this day, my father-in-law does not know if it had been destroyed or stored away and forgotten about, proof of a personal historical experience now perhaps lost forever.

View of the Nieuwe Maas river from the Willemsbrug looking west towards the Erasmusbrug, with the Oosterkade on the right bank across from Noordereiland on the left.

The view from my perch on the top floor of an older apartment house that survived the bombing on the Noordereiland.

The surviving apartment houses on the Noordereiland now dwarfed by the Maastoren (the tallest building in the Netherlands) behind and further down the Wilhelminaplein, OMA's massive De Rotterdam's staggered vertical blocks.

Across the Erasmusbrug is a mid-20th century apartment building where my mother-in-law's parents had lived on the 10th floor for a while.

A flock of swans float towards the Erasmusbrug that is known affectionately as "The Swan" by the locals.

At the end of the Wilhelminapier where the headquarters of the Holland America Line once stood prominently alone, it has since been converted into the Hotel New York which has retained much of the nostalgic design features and furnishings of the historic shipping offices.

"Rotterdam NightTide"
a short film of evening scenes on the Nieuwe Maas river set to the contemplative music composed by my son ENZIO VERSTER.

Monday, July 4, 2016

architecture film festival ROTTERDAM

where my husband's family lived through the second world war years when most of the city was blitzed, but has since mushroomed a compendium of progressive architectural second growth. It is only befitting that this regenerated port city featuring an array of distinctive buildings by daring architects now hosts a biennial Architecture Film Festival to draw design and film aficionados from near and far.

For years now, I had been wanting to visit Rotterdam again and attend the film festival- and here I was wandering the city with stories of my father-in-law's youthful adventures unreeling in my mind before sitting comfortably inside the LantarenVenster theatre to watch a series of films from around the world...

The theatre and film festival venue is located near the venerable Hotel New York where I treated myself to dinner after purchasing tickets for the movies I had planned to see. The building for this hotel and its restaurant had been the headquarters of the Holland America Line situated at the end of the Wilhelmina pier, from where some of our Dutch relatives had sailed off to New York on HAL cruise ships in the 1950's.

On display outside the entrance to the LantarenVenster was a possible solution for the most minimal of urban shelter that is basically two linked together sleeping pods. The so- called BOOMHUTTENFEST/SOLID FAMILY is a social design project by Sander Borsje and Tobias Krasenburg, and consists of two plywood sided "icosahedrons" connected with a crawl through only "corridor" and platforms in each unit for mattresses.

Before the showing of SHORTS: ACT UP - Six Examples from All Over the World of People taking Control of their Space, the AFFR programme director Wies Sanders interviewed Jan Schabert, the director of POJANGMACHA, a 13-minute observation piece filmed in South Korea.

A view of the lobby space of the LantarenVenster where other interviews were also conducted with film-makers and architects.

Temporary festival screens were installed in the PAKHUISMEESTEREN, a long disused warehouse built during the war years, and now in the process of being re-purposed into a hotel to be completed later this year. I accidentally wandered into the official opening of construction in an adjoining space when I went to see what was showing on the multiple screens, (but I was not allowed to photograph the celebratory proceedings).

Rotterdam's very own hometown starchitect Rem Koolhaas' DE ROTTERDAM stacked "vertical city" complex looms colossal over the old warehouse Pakhuismeesteren - a strikingly jarring contrast between a world when tea and exotic spices were shipped over from faraway lands (SUMATRA, JAVA, BORNEO as indicated on its rooftop signs) and stored in such warehouses awaiting distribution and consumption to a world where hypermonumental structures of glass and steel can now "warehouse" the consumers themselves ensconced in such technological luxury that was barely dreamt possible just 50 years ago.

I wonder how my parents-in-law would feel about the architectural metamorphosis that has so dramatically transformed their pre-war hometown into one of the most lauded design cities of the 21st century.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Huis Sonneveld...Gesamtkunstwerk

The Sonneveld House has been a much anticipated visit on my architectural pilgrimage agenda. During a recent trip to Rotterdam for the Architecture Film Festival, I spent part of an afternoon wandering through the house with very few other visitors around.

Unfortunately, at that time the entire second floor was closed off for re-painting, which meant missing out on viewing and photographing the living and dining areas. Despite not physically experiencing this main living space, I could still fully appreciate the total concept of the design by the architects, J.A. Brinkman and L.C. van der Vlugt, in applying a radical style departure from the vernacular residential designs of the era as well as incorporating the latest technical advances in fixtures, utilities and furniture production for the interior.

Their client, Albertus Sonneveld, was already well-versed with Van der Vlugt's industrial commission of the Van Nelle Factory [now designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site] where Mr. Sonneveld had become the co-director of the tobacco department. The Sonneveld family was progressive-minded and committed to creating a modern home with the newest conveniences of the day, thereby creating a Gesamtkunstwerk - a complete synthesis of design elements for all the interior spaces with the exterior form of the house and the garden plan as well.

Sonneveld House
oil and pencil on beechwood panel; 30 x 22.5 cm

I was inspired to paint again for the continuing series of architecture themed paintings that I had began years ago!

The unassuming entrance way with a curved tiled wall leading to the metal front door.  

Sonneveld House (east view)
oil and pencil on beechwood panel; 22.5 x 30 cm

This end of the house has a spiral staircase leading from the living and dining floor to a tiled terrace off the studio room below and into the garden.

The bright studio for the two Sonneveld daughters was panelled with large glass windows on all 3 sides to let in as much natural light as possible, and mostly furnished with the tubular steel furniture and lamps designed by W.H. GISPEN.

A cantilevered metal step off a servant's room into the back garden. 
(The Sonnevelds' two servants enjoyed their own rooms with built-in radios, a shared bathroom and doors to access the garden and fresh air!)

I found these interior elevation plans for the Sonneveld House exhibited at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. 

A framed portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Albertus Sonneveld sits on a bookshelf in the studio. 

Their bedroom was furnished with the bed and a built-in "headboard" comprising of shelves, bedside cabinets, and a control panel for light switches and speakers for the sound system installed through the whole house as well as two telephones, one for internal and the other for external calls; the vanity set with a large round mirror that can be tilted; and a small table and armchair by the window.
Even if it is on the small side for a master bedroom, it does lead into a separate dressing room with closets and to an ensuite bathroom with two sinks, multiple hydro-massage shower heads in the shower stall and even heated towel racks!

Friday, June 3, 2016

huis sonneveld...elemental notes

After a few days of watching films at the Architecture Film Festival in Rotterdam last October, it was another visual feast to tour the Sonneveld House and experience a building "in the flesh" as it were. This meticulously maintained legacy of the Nieuwe Bouwen, the Dutch version of the International Modern style was commissioned and built almost 90 years ago for the Sonneveld family who relished every design innovation and technical novelty to enable a cohesive melding of furniture, decorative accessories and utilitarian fixtures with the architectural style of their new home.

The chrome-plated address plaque for the residence of Albertus H. Sonneveld at Jongkindstraat 12, Rotterdam [with the Het Nieuwe Instituut of architecture and design now located just down the street]

A vault-like door for the "DIENSTINGANG" [Service Entrance] with an intercom system to alert the occupants of the arrival of deliveries and anyone not deemed worthy for the front door access.

A W.H. GISPEN ceiling lamp in the master bedroom, with the newly developed GISO milky glass shade to reduce glare and diffuse the light. The whole house was furnished almost exclusively with the Dutch designer's tubular steel furniture and lighting innovations.

Elegantly designed SATCHWELL thermostats, one for daytime and the other for nighttime control. [The Satchwell manufacturing company had just been established in the U.K. in the early 1920's and is now based in South Africa.]

Wall clocks of the most minimalist design were installed in many of the rooms and connected to the electrical circuits for each room, which was still a novel feat for the 1930's! 

A sweetly printed sign to instruct the deliverymen to leave their orders beneath and to "adopt" nothing!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

huis sonneveld...curvilinear silences

I am following my modernist instincts into this house built more than 80 years ago in Rotterdam. The client was Albertus Sonneveld and the architecture firm of Brinkman and Van der Vlugt designed a home for the Sonneveld family that embodied the essence of NIEUWE BOUWEN - the new Dutch functionalist building.

I am transported through the poetic reveal of its curvilinear volumes from one level to the next - my partial reflection moving along the gleaming ribbon of a steel handrail as I climb...

the hushed light through frosted panes softening black marble and warming a bronze bust...

the steps spiraled around a hard-topped drum, resonating curves in plaster, metal, stone...

the grace of descent to the utilitarian chambers where steam glows on the yellow tiles...

the drying of linen towels in the quiet solitude and functional elegance of the laundry room...

Upon leaving, I gazed up to the circular nebula quivering daylight over a simple glass globe...