How old is the road to Kralingen?

Kralingen, is one of Rotterdam’s most cherished neighbourhoods. According to a local saying, it is a place where people in Rotterdam have wanted to go for many years. That’s not surprising, as it is a notable village in the city with splendid houses by the forest and water. It is a place where many people would like to live, but where the housing market is limited. However, this is going to change. After years of talking, designing, and persuading, a plan has been made to create a new neighbourhood slightly further up on the Kralingse Plan lake. A neighbourhood with the same character, translated into a contemporary look. Meet Nieuw Kralingen.

But there is no sign of retro here

Adriaan Geuze, the founder of the urban design and landscape architecture firm West 8 is a major proponent of Nieuw Kralingen. His emphatic dedication is also expressed in the design, as public space will become a visible element of the new neighbourhood. This is inspiring as it stipulates the quality of the streets and the neighbourhood just as in Oud Kralingen as having narrow alleys, leafy avenues, and large lakes. The question is how you flank this public space. What architecture makes Nieuw Kralingen a 21st century neighbourhood with a dash of romanticism, in which the houses and the green area form a coherent whole?

We worked on the design of the street frontages with four firms of architects . In all honesty, it was perhaps one of the toughest jobs that has ever landed on our table. It is not so complicated to devise a ready-to-wear façade design that echoes the visual wealth of Oud Kralingen. You see this method frequently enough, and we call the result retro. There are plenty of new housing developments (Vinex) in the Netherlands that have been entirely constructed this way, so there is nothing wrong with this, but we think that it can be done differently.

To paraphrase Deelder: Kralingen is not an illusion created by a camera. You can’t film Kralingen, it is much too authentic. This way of thinking is shared by the clients and the municipality.

Rich entrepreneurial architecture

What does that really mean? What is the architecture in Kralingen? If you spend some time walking around Kralingen on a Sunday afternoon, from the lake to the dike, you will notice how you are overwhelmed by a wealth of curled window sills, voluptuous bay windows, extremely thin window frames, huge cornices, intricate gutters, splendid wrought ironwork, various steps, and glazed ornaments. All of this is blended into a single building, a single street, a single neighbourhood.

The common denominator of all of these amazing façades is the most unusual type of commercial architecture. Each building or series of buildings exudes a huge expression of architectural elements. These elements, such as a gutter, a door knob, a window, or a door sill are not exceptional in themselves. However, the enormous attention to detail, the craftsmanship and the absence of abstraction enabled a splendid presentation of buildings to arise between 1880 and 1940. It is in this romanticism, this story about buildings and the love for building houses, that we have found parallels with Nieuw Kralingen. Namely, a way of building that achieves a high-end look with the potential of making the neighbourhood as beautifully old as the original.

Expression and narrative power

To bring this about, we carried out a painstaking analysis of all the architectural elements that make up a façade from a cultural-historical perspective. It is a huge collection, which we have translated into these times. It is an illustration of the state of the art, but also a response to contemporary issues; It includes architectural elements with themes such as climate resistance, circularity, and natural inclusion, but also prefabrication and short construction time. Since we have not attached these elements to the façade as a technical add-on, but have designed them to be an integral part, Nieuw Kralingen has gained an architecture that is contemporary and intrinsic.

The great pleasure of design, which you could call ‘form follows fun’, in which we create a façade from these elements, increases our fascination to create a similar architectonic richness to Kralingen. Due to their expression and narrative power, these elements, which form the essence of romanticism, evoke an association with the eclectic styles that characterise the streets of Kralingen.

The design language of ornamentation has its origins just as much in instigating the architectural connection as in nature. Abstractions of flora and fauna are deployed in a purely figurative manner to give an extra layer to the façade; We have used ornamentation because it can be used here, and we think that it should be. Sometimes it is present in a very subtle manner, and sometimes it has much greater prominence.

The effect can be felt when an evening walk through Nieuw Kralingen soon starts to feel like an obvious extension of a walk around Kralingse Plas lake. The associative effect of the architecture combined with wide green areas make the neighbourhood so good that it will soon become fashionable among Rotterdam locals to refer to it as Kralingen Bain, Kralingen Village and Nouveau Kralingen.