Rotterdam Renewal

Exploring the restoration project that won the 2016 World Monuments Fund/Knoll Modernism Prize

In the most recent renovation by the winning team, both the logic and details of the Justus van Effen complex were celebrated and refreshed. “By working on this task of restoration, the amazement about the beauty and the ingenious qualities of the project only grew,” Hebly told Knoll. “The original design was worked out on all levels, on all scales, so cleverly, in all the dwellings Michiel Brinkman designed.”

“For instance, the windows are so very well-shaped and situated from both the inside as the outside, and these are thrilling things to discover. And in our work on the monument, we increasingly grew to the conclusion that we had just to follow this original beauty and logic. By doing that, everything fell on the right spot, as it seems.”

“In our work on the monument, we increasingly grew to the conclusion that we had just to follow this original beauty and logic. By doing that, everything fell on the right spot, as it seems.”

—Arjan Hebly

The Justus van Effen Complex, Rotterdam | Knoll Inspiration

The varied openings on the façades of the Justus van Effen Complex are indicative of the interior layout. Photograph courtesy of Molenaar & Co. architecten / Bas Kooij.

While the windows on each building were specially sized to indicate the functions of the rooms—larger, horizontal windows for the living rooms and smaller, recessed windows in the bedrooms, for example—the arrangement of the building blocks resulted in a sequenced layout of public spaces.

“The configuration of the strips of buildings yields a multitude of different spatial forms,” Hebly writes, “from street space to small, medium, and large courtyards connected by a well-thought out system of architecturally differentiated gates and openings between the strips of buildings.”

“The configuration of the strips of buildings yields a multitude of different spatial forms.”

—Arjan Hebly

The Justus van Effen Complex, Rotterdam | Knoll Inspiration

The building arrangement in the Justus van Effen Complex results in a sequence of differentiated public spaces. Photograph courtesy of Molenaar & Co. architecten / Bas Kooij.

From the ornamental tiling of the yellow brick to the plant boxes and tiled mosaics of the elevated walkway, the flourishes of the Justus van Effen Complex are understated, but not overlooked. The residential volumes include apartments of various types and sizes: from single-floor apartments to maisonettes to a few larger four-storey units. The apartment buildings all wrap around a bathhouse in the middle of the complex, which has now been converted to a gallery and reception space.

Apart from restoring the project to its original design, the architects also introduced contemporary amenities to the residential dwellings. “Of course, we also did new things like installing and integrating a new central and sustainable heating system in the dwellings with the use of thermal heat, new interior elements with glazed doors, to let the light and space do the main job in the houses,” Hebly told Knoll. The roof of the complex is covered in solar panels, generating heat for tap water.

“We also did new things like installing and integrating a new central and sustainable heating system in the dwellings with the use of thermal heat, new interior elements with glazed doors, to let the light and space do the main job in the houses.”

—Arjan Hebly

The Justus van Effen Complex, Rotterdam | Knoll Inspiration

The Justus van Effen Complex, Rotterdam | Knoll Inspiration

The residential spaces of the Justus van Effen Complex and the converted central bathhouse. Photographs courtesy of Molenaar & Co. architecten / Bas Kooij.

The interiors of the apartments have been painted a gleaming white and the stairwells have been restored to their original brickwork. The green spaces of the Justus van Effen Complex involve elevated grass surfaces and solitary trees, inviting residents to come together and use the outdoor spaces. But despite every improved amenity, Hebly insists that the true charm of the complex lies in its ineffable qualities, the ones that elude measurements and photographs. “Ultimately, he writes, “architecture as penetrating as this is about inarticulate understanding.”

“Ultimately, architecture as penetrating as this is about inarticulate understanding.”

—Arjan Hebly

The Justus van Effen Complex, Rotterdam | Knoll Inspiration

Subtle ornament on the façades of the Justus van Effen Complex. Photographs courtesy of Molenaar & Co. architecten / Bas Kooij.

The winners of the World Monuments Fund / Knoll Modernism Prize will present their work on the restoration of the Justus van Effen Complex in a public presentation at the Museum of Modern Art on Monday, December 5, 2016.