Rotterdam’s port has shifted closer to the sea, freeing up the old inner harbours for new urban developments in the city centre. As a result the warehouses on the Wilhelminapier are making way for new high-rise residential and office buildings with restaurants and cultural facilities at street level. The pier was once the gateway to the New World as ocean steamers took emigrants to America; now cruise ships moor here. The former headquarters of the Holland America Line at the head of the pier have been strikingly transformed into the Hotel New York. The northern quayside contains mainly freestanding office towers; designs by Norman Foster and Renzo Piano are already complete. In 1999, Mecanoo was commissioned to develop a masterplan for the southern quayside, which is intended for housing. The resulting plan sought to avoid a sharp contrast with the nearby office buildings – to not create housing blocks with a rigid repetition of balconies and monotonous fenestration, but instead to provide generous, neutral floor plates flexible enough for living and working, and further, to create an open and inviting base at street level. When the brief later called for a tall residential tower, it was possible to develop these principles and the ‘Holland-America feeling’ even further.
The building is a composition of intersecting volumes, one of which is suspended above the quayside. The base, with its restaurants and offices, contributes to a sense of urban animation. The tower refers to the idea of a vertical city and in particular to New York’s pre-war skyscrapers. The construction is a hybrid: the two lower levels are steel (America), followed by concrete (Holland) to a height of 90 metres and then steel again, which delivers highly flexible floor plates. The construction offers room for variation, different storey heights and more than fifty different floor plates. The windows, balconies and loggias form a rhythmic pattern. In section the building is reminiscent of an ocean steamer or cruise ship: different ‘classes’ have different floor plans and storey heights, and alongside apartments (cabins) there are restaurants, offices, guest suites, a swimming pool, gym and sauna. The porthole windows continue the maritime analogy.
The ‘M’ surmounting the building, an 8-metre high weather vane, stands for Montevideo, but also for the river Maas, Rotterdam’s maritime tradition and much more besides. Historically the Wilhelminapier was full of warehouses bearing the then still exotic names of faraway ports such as New Orleans, Santos, Baltimore and Havana. The name of the Netherlands’ tallest residential building on the Wilhelminapier fits within this tradition but also has an orientation on the wider world.