The Groot Handelsgebouw in Rotterdam is one of the city’s iconic buildings. Architect Hugh Maaskant played a key role in the architecture of Dutch post-war reconstruction, and the building has lost none of its power over the decades. In recognition of 65 years of the Groot Handelsgebouw, the Kunsthal presents an exhibition concerning the life-story of this imposing giant, covering its lesser period, as well as its comeback after the comprehensive 2005 renovation. The history of the Groot Handelsgebouw is brought to life through the stories of Rotterdam tenants and residents, as well as exceptional archival material including films, photos, and documentation.
Super-modern at the time, and The Netherlands’ greatest collective business building, the Groot Handelsgebouw was officially opened by Queen Juliana on June 3rd, 1953. In the early days, countless wholesalers - selling anything from sewing thread to tractors - had their show rooms, depots, and offices in the building. All manner of things were traded, and shop-keepers would come to the wholesalers, pay, and load up their cars. Trucks and delivery vans would even drive inside the building using internal roads. In the 1970s, one of the biggest fires in the history of Rotterdam broke out in the Groot Handelsgebouw. Steadily, as traffic in the city became too congested, the wholesalers relocated to the periphery of the city. The Groot Handelsgebouw entered a transition phase, the warehouses made way for offices, and the building became disorderly due to changing tenants, and renovations not carried out.
“You remind me of my wife. For 25 years she’s been searching for shoes that are big on the inside, and small on the outside.”
Listed national monument
Following a comprehensive renovation and restoration in 2005, the Groot Handelsgebouw regained its noble image, was declared an officially listed national monument, and Rotterdam could be proud of it again. Thanks to the gigantic stairs stretching from the square in front of the station to the building’s roof in the summer or 2016, many Rotterdammers renewed their acquaintance with Maaskant’s famous building. ‘The stairs’ were climbed by a great number of people, and a new public embraced the edifice that has come to symbolise the post-war reconstruction of Rotterdam.
About a hippopotamus in the lift, and other stories...
The exhibition also tells the stories of Rotterdam tenants and residents, such as the one about a hippopotamus in the lift, or the mysterious sailboat suspended between the third and fourth floors during construction. Or about the priest who blest the cars driving on the road that runs through the building, or the small-scale supermarket in the cellar that preferred not be found, and about four ‘hidden’ residences in the building...