In 1947, soon after World War II, a Dutch entrepreneur dreamt of a building that would house a multitude of enterprises under a single roof. The construction of the Groot Handelsgebouw (Wholesale building) was completed a few years later, and the vision of its creator to create the first multi-business building in Rotterdam remains innovative to this day. Even though co-working spaces abide in the city, the Groot Handelsgebouw is not just a busy spot for creative and ambitious entrepreneurs; it is a neighbourhood, exactly like the architect Hugh Maaskant envisioned: with shops, residences, leisure spaces and transport facilities.
The building occupies a whole urban block and is situated on the southwest corner of Station square. This is where most of the public activities of the building come together: coffee places for the hasty train commuters, burger diners and snack bars, and of course the grand café Engel on the corner that bears witness to the aura of the “old days”.
As you enter, you’ll find yourself in the reception. Next to the lifts, there is a small exhibition about the history of the building. The main exhibit is a scale model of the building, with the original surroundings; it occurs to me that the “new” building is a unique intervention for that period. Through this link with the past, I cannot help but see the Groot Handelsgebouw as a reminder of the visionary architecture that was meant to define the scale and character of the ‘new’ city of Rotterdam.