The fall and rise of Kop Van Zuid

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Like Liverpool’s Docklands, Kop Van Zuid suffered a huge economic decline during the 1960s and 1970s. It gradually became a forgotten area, which was used only as an industrial junkyard and a rail-shunting yard for the Dutch Rail Company. The district of Feijenoord, which neighbours Kop Van Zuid, is classified as a high deprivation area, along with two other neighbouring boroughs. When the development of the plan was initiated, 30% of the labour force in the surrounding districts was unemployed, a number which had since risen to 40%. Although the economic situation improved to a certain extent since 1986, Feijenoord was not touched by the economic upswing.


Since 1978, plans were designed to restructure the area. The first houses, which were social houses, were built on the east side of the Kop Van Zuid area in 1980. Up until 1989, only 750 houses had been built. The plans created by the Municipality after 1980 broke down partly because of financial problems, and also because of conflicts of interest between the Private Port Enterprises and the Municipality Authorities over land use issues. In the early years after 1986, the highly expensive process of inner city development and redevelopment increased the need for new locations for houses and offices. This development drive was an essential part of the economic regeneration policies of the 1980s.

Regeneration Policies of the 1980s

The main objectives of Central Government were to bring about the economic revitalization, urban regeneration, and social renewal. The main policies specific to Rotterdam were:

* Fundamental restructuring of Rotterdam’s spatial infrastructure

* A shift from labour intensive employment to a technology driven economic structure

* A focus on automation and innovation

* Rapid change from traditional harbour activities

* Move towards ‘High tech and high quality’ service industries

* Banking, administrative, and other services as supporting context for its role in the global economy.

Early Stages

In 1986, Teun Koolhaas, the famous Dutch architect designed under the authority of the Municipal Department of Urban Development, an urban development plan for the area. Koolhaas managed to break the relatively isolated situation of the area by projecting a bridge over the river to the City Centre. He also planned an underground rail link and a new subway station. Koolhaas also succeeded in mixing original elements of the area, like the old quays and warehouses, with more modern buildings. Since the plan, some small changes had been made but the main elements and the structure of the plan stayed intact. The plans were presented to the City Council in April 1989, and were approved in May of the same year.

The Site

Kop Van Zuid itself is a 125-hectare site and is situated on the south bank of the River Maas directly opposite the City Centre on the north bank. Rotterdam is divided into ten Boroughs, and the ownership of Kop Van Zuid is divided down the middle as the map shows. Half belongs to the Borough of Feijenoord and half to the City Centre.

Specific Policies

The creation of an undivided and easily accessible city centre along, and on both sides of the banks of the River Niewe Maas.

The old harbour and the river play an important role in the division of Rotterdam between the north and south. The project is also meant to stimulate the social and economic development of South Rotterdam, so that at the same time, the existing psychological barrier could be overcome.

The stimulation of the economy of the surrounding districts in Rotterdam South. The main reason for economic revitalisation is stated in the development plan in the following terms, “The negative atmosphere that permeates the surrounding area, which is caught in a downward spiral caused by long term unemployment, endangers the conditions for a successful realisation of the Kop Van Zuid area”.

The realisation of a suitable environment for the establishment of housing, offices, shops and recreational facilities.

This is seen as a necessity to assure and strengthen Rotterdam’s position as an international trade and harbour city. The main aim is to attract companies, which are internationally orientated with a high level of expertise.


It is estimated that around £1200 million will be invested in the project in its entirety. Most of the money invested will come from public private partnerships, which will directly fund the Court of Justice, Tax Office Building and the new metro station. For the construction of the Wilhelmina Pier (covered in greater detail later) the Local Government will be a major player. It is estimated that the cost of this part of the project will be around £500 million. Also, key funding is coming from the Department of Housing, Spatial Planning, and the Environment, who are subsidising 50% of the cost of constructing new roads, and the Department of Transportation and Public Works, who are contributing 80% of the cost of constructing public transport facilities.

What is there at present?


The Landtong development has a mixture of 625 owner occupied and rented houses, with over 1000 square metres of business space, 328 roofed parking spaces, a sports centre and a crache. The building plan consists of two residential blocks flanking a public square.


This is an attractive residential environment with a number of recreational opportunities. This area, a former warehouse called “The Five Continents” contains 107 lofts and maisonettes, 2000 square metres of office space and places an emphasis on recreational shopping.

Wilhelmina Pier

This is the economic centre of gravity of Kop Van Zuid. Due to its strategic position, it is a suitable location for business services related to Rotterdam as a port. For this reason, the themes of ‘Port’, ‘Trade’ and ‘Distribution’ have been chosen. The Master Plan, drawn up by Fosters Associates from London, purposes an integrated residential and work area with a number of recreational and other urban facilities.

The Future

The above picture shows the Wilhelmina Pier as it is today, however there still remains a lot of space on the Pier to accommodate new developments. The picture below is how the architect envisages the Pier to look when it is complete:

The buildings on this impression are not to scale. The architect believed that it is desirable to attain a development of varying building heights. One question that needs to be asked of the proposal is will it be complete by 2010?

One of the main individual developments on the Wilhelmina Pier will be “De Rotterdam” between the District Head Office and the Cruise Terminal. This will be a 126 mere tall building and will cost in the region of £150 million, which makes it Koolhaas’ biggest commission in the Netherlands so far. “De Rotterdam” will contain 30000 square metres of offices, 260 apartments, a luxury hotel, restaurants, 1500 square metres of shops, a cinema and a gym/pool. The project is due to be completed by 2005/6.

Evaluation of the Kop Van Zuid project

To evaluate the success of the project, I am going to look back at the specific policies and objectives that were identified when the project was first implemented.

The creation of an undivided and easily accessible city centre along, and on both sides of the banks of the River Niewe Maas.

If we interpret accessibility in a physical way, we have to conclude that this objective has been realised. The new bridge, rail link and subway station have improved links with the City Centre. It is too early to speak of an undivided City Centre because the project has not been finished yet.

The stimulation of the economy of the surrounding districts in Rotterdam South.

Especially by promoting employment, this objective should be realised. The social return project should play a vital part in this process. Originally, the idea was to create as many jobs as possible. In the first few years the results were poor, as private employers were not interested for different reasons. In 1994, the strategy was changed. There was more of a focus on the reinforcement and stimulation of the economic activities in the districts. This policy was more successful and created more jobs.

The realisation of a suitable environment for the establishment of housing, offices, shops and recreational facilities.

This has been achieved. Impressive housing and building projects partly designed by renowned architects should create an attractive Kop Van Zuid. All the houses that are now built have been sold. However, the entire Kop Van Zuid area has not been a complete success. The lack of attraction of shops and private enterprises has been a disappointment, but since the project is not yet finished, this is not a major concern.

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