Architecture Highlights

Rotterdam is a vast open-air museum of modern and contemporary architecture, with myriad important and eye-popping buildings. There are many triumphs, including some magnificent buildings by architecture firms OMA and MVRDV, and also a fair number of magnificent failures (the Innport Hotel and the Shipping and Transport College immediately come to mind). One thing that they all have in common is a willingness to innovate and experiment with built form.

  • Markthal One of the city's signature buildings, this extraordinary inverted-U-shaped market hall was designed by local architecture firm MVRDV and opened for business in 2014. It comprises highly sought-after glass-walled apartments arcing over a 40m-high market hall with a striking fruit- and vegetable-muralled ceiling.
  • Centraal Station The most used – and quite possibly best loved – building in Rotterdam, Centraal Station was designed by Benthem Crouwel, MVSA and West 8. Built between 1999 and 2013, it features a dramatically angled passenger hall with a pointed stainless-steel clad roof that almost punches into the sky.
  • De Rotterdam Designed by OMA, whose star architect Rem Koolhaas is a Pritzker-winning local hero, this 'vertical city' with its three interconnected towers was completed in 2013 and is the city's most acclaimed contemporary building.
  • Van Nelle Fabriek Designed and built between 1925 and 1931, this modernist World Heritage–listed factory north-west of the city centre is an icon of 20th-century industrial architecture.
  • Overblaak Development Designed by Amsterdam-based architect Piet Blom and built between 1978 and 1984, this mind-bending development facing the Markthal is marked by its pencil-shaped tower and 'forest' of 38 cube-shaped apartments on hexagonal pylons. This vibrantly coloured, crazily tilting apartment block is one of the city's most recognisable structures. One apartment, the Kijk-Kubus Museumwoning, is open to the public.
  • Erasmusbrug A symbol of the city, this graceful bridge dubbed 'the Swan' was designed by architect Ben van Berkel in 1996 and spans 802m across the Maas river.
  • Huis Sonneveld When company director Albertus Sonneveld decided to commission an architect to design a contemporary home for his family, the obvious choice was Leendert Van der Vlugt, who had designed the magnificent Van Nelle factory. Working with Johannes Brinkman, Van der Vlugt designed a streamlined, state-of-the-art building that was hailed an outstanding example of Dutch Functionalism as soon as its construction was completed in 1933.
  • KPN Telecom Headquarters Designed by celebrated architect Renzo Piano and opened in 2000, the bizarre KPN Telecom headquarters building leans at a sharp angle, seemingly resting on a long pole.
  • Bijenkorf Department Store Legendary Bauhaus architect Marcel Breuer worked with Amsterdam-based architect Abraham Elzas on the design of this department store, which opened in 1957. Clad in distinctive hexagonal travertine panels, it features a monumental sculpture by Russian Constructivisit Naum Gabo on its Coolsingel facade.
  • Timmerhuis Designed by OMA, the 'Carpenter's House' (2009–15) incorporates apartments, shops, restaurants and Museum Rotterdam. Often described as a 'floating cloud' or the 'cloud house', the building's stepped steel-and-glass cubed mass does indeed seem to float above the street.
  • Café De Unie A tribute to the original De Stijl building designed by JJP Oud and built on this site in 1924, this cafe features the bright colours that are forever associated with that art and architecture movement (red, yellow, blue and white). Oud's building was destroyed in the 1940 bombardment, and this facade was reconstructed in 1986.
  • Het Nieuwe Instituut Architect Jo Coenen beat high-profile competitors including Rem Koolhaas to win the 1988 design competition for this building with a striking glass, concrete and steel structure incorporating multiple exhibition spaces, an archive and an auditorium overlooking a lake.

For more coverage of the city's architectural highlights, purchase a copy of Rotterdam Architecture City by Paul Groenendijk and Piet Vollaard, which is available in both Dutch- and English-language versions. Rotterdam Tourist Information offices also stock a handy 'Rotterdam, City of Architecture' brochure that lists significant buildings and includes a map.

Street Sculpture

Rotterdam's not just an open-air gallery of extraordinary architecture – it's also home to streets filled with art.

Well over 60 sculptures are scattered throughout town (with more appearing every year), including many by major artists, such as Paul McCarthy's controversial 2001 Santa Claus, and Picasso's sandblasted 1970 concrete sculpture Sylvette, which he designed with Norwegian artist Carl Nesjar.

For a full list of sculptures and an interactive map of their locations, visit Sculpture International Rotterdam (www.sculptureinternationalrotterdam.nl).