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A Rooftop Gesture

Architect Marten Wassmann on putting a modern building on top of a historical one

Las Palmas office, Rotterdam

“The Las Palmas offices, right in the middle of Rotterdam’s Wilhelminapier, had to be a recognisable landmark, but not a flamboyant one. It serves as a symbol of renewed urban life on the south side of the river Maas, opposite the old city center. Sitting on top of an older building, it had to be more of a subtle ‘gesture’ than a ‘structure’, a building in its own right.

That’s why we took hints from the surroundings, such as the rounded white chimney and the maritime setting, to come up with a retro-futuristic oval pod, with rounded windows at either side that look like they belong on a cruise ship.

The curtain-like louvers on south facade, blocking sunlight from penetrating the highly transparent building, had to be individually designed and laser-cut so that they could rotate in the irregular oval shape. The lines of the cladding and the walls intersect perfectly, creating a visual harmony. And the roof, which appears perfectly flat, is actually made up of white steel grids so that rainwater can fall through, preventing pools of water and residue.

“We had to bring technical details together without boasting.”

—Marten Wassmann, partner since 2005

To us, the building evokes the nostalgic sense of optimism that was around in the ‘60s, when the original Las Palmas was built. So, for example, you can drive your car into an elevator and take it all the way up to the bottom of the office building, park next to the pod’s legs, and stare out over the vista of Rotterdam harbour. Or you can take a ladder up to the roof and clamber through a submarine-like door, feeling on top of the world.

This centre of urban life would have been different if this building hadn’t been on top. Now there’s a synergy between contemporary architecture and the original Las Palmas building. And for the people inside, there’s this sense: you’ve seen it from the outside, now you’re part of this place.”

Las Palmas office, Rotterdam

For our next highlight, we’ll stay in Rotterdam.


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