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L gy rt lo po no t ch en re re Te m tu n of on c io y ir ite at ze it nv ch Si ers lt E Ar du v i ra 19 ate ni u an G 20 edi n U e B rb ay m e th d U M ter hov of an In nd lty m Ei acu nis F rba U

Voor grote oma


Graduation studio Author Graduation committee (alphabetically) Institution Discipline Date

The Intermediate Size IV Lennart Arpots ir. Jochem Groenland ir. Sjef van Hoof prof.dr.ir. Pieter van Wesemael dr.ir. Hüsnü Yegenoglu Eindhoven University of Technology: Faculty of the Built Environment Architecture May 10, 2019









In light of current developments in European petrochemical industry and sustainable innovation, this report suggests a strategic approach to integrate the vast monofunctional industrial zone in use by Shell Pernis into the Rotterdam urban landscape. Currently, the Shell refineries at the Eerste and Tweede Petroleumhavens remain invisible and disjointed parts of the city as a result of its status as a ‘necessary evil’. To counter this and to prepare the industrial area for either a new life as part of the city or for more sustainable and more visible and legible industrial activity, the project suggests to create an elevated public domain parallel to the existing industry, thus making it accessible without interfering. This goal is reached by appropriating existing industrial systems of distribution and broadening their industrial function with a public one, as well as by programming the industrial space with informative, recreative and cultural functions that can establish an interest in modern petrochemical industry with the public at large. 

The location of focus of the report in red. Highlighted is the metropolitan region of Rotterdam, outlined in white is the contour of the municipality.

Index Introduction


1. Petrochemical submersion


2. Cultivating the petrochemical landscape


3. New Petrylon


4. Podium seedling


5. Colophon and acknowledgements



PREFACE During the yearlong process that has led to this report the group and I have traced numerous research lines related to a number of themes, mainly the relationship between water and city, the historical chronology of Rotterdam’s port development, architectural autonomy in the context of the port and presumed parallels with the Japanese Metabolist movement. Throughout this process, a story slowly developed that became the final topic of my graduation project. The topic and this story are founded on three research lines and have resulted in the project’s urban, architectural and programmatic layers. I will first introduce the three trains of thought before elaborating on them individually as to give you a context and framework in which to consider the project.

BREAKING THE MONOFUNCTIONALITY During the preliminary research the most important conclusion was the dissipation of a relationship between the city of Rotterdam and the water of the Nieuwe Maas. The intricate 19th century city-water complex had changed to a situation in which large industrial complexes (mostly petrochemical industry) hold a monopoly on the water of the Nieuwe Maas. These are monofunctional industrial zones, sometimes stretching over four kilometers, inaccessible to the public at large. Additionally, an ongoing ungearing was discovered between the industrial complexes and the urban tissue. To re-establish a relation between city and water, the project involves breaking said monofunctionality by inserting an urban space into the industrial space. Making the industrial space accessible to the public and therefore no longer a blind spot, the currently technologically, pragmatically and unconsciously produced space suddenly acquires an esthetical, ethical and spatial conscience, and therefore becomes more integrated in its urban context of Rotterdam. This strategy also prepares the site for a future of uncertainty in light of current sustainability developments and international competition between petrochemical industries.

CULTIVATING THE LOCATION Choosing the petrochemical complexes as a topic led to an investigation into the esthetic and spatial qualities of such a site. During the preliminary research the esthetic of the industry already showed its face in various cultural expressions, such as photography (by for example Cas Oorthuys) and architecture (Bakema’s public library). After a visit to the Shell refinery at Pernis I concluded that the petrochemical industry can mostly be categorized in two distinct landscapes; the tank park (landscape of stocky cylinders) and the refinery (landscape of stretchy cylinders). Largely opposite in activity, density, form and logic, they share a scale of the enormous, an extreme illegibility, an obsession with cylindrical shapes and a hostility towards busybodies. The architecture of the petrochemical industry is relentlessly autistic, as a result of decades of isolation and continuous techno-


logical improvement with no esthetics authority to answer to. It shows no attempt to establish visual communication to anything. The project attempts to disclose this sublime and alienating characteristic, as well as to explore and extract architectural qualities inherent to the petrochemical complex, interpret and use these in the architecture of a new public building, and therefore establish an esthetical bridge between the industry and the public at large.

QUESTIONING THE INDUSTRY A literature research into the historical background of the Shell refineries at Pernis revealed the narrative multiplicity of the petrochemical industry and companies as over the course of time its societal connotations have radically changed over and over. The findings include international trade wars that crystallized on the left bank of the Meuse, ties between the founding of the complex and the sacrifice of metropolitan dreams of Rotterdam during the Interbellum, the opportunistic approach of the government towards the petrochemical industry and the ever-changing meaning of the industry to the country. The Shell refinery at the Eerste Petroleumhaven near Pernis can be considered not only the historical core of large scale petroleum consumption in the Netherlands and the accompanied sustainability problems, but also as the Dutch center of influence that international petrochemical companies can exert on a nation’s political, societal and urban development. In addition to the problematic issues that the location embodies, the pragmatically and technologically driven nature of one of the biggest polluters of the country could be a significant opportunity for innovative sustainable development. Therefore, in order to acquaint the population of Rotterdam and the Netherlands with the subject of discussions on sustainability, globalization and throw-away societies, the project acquired a third, programmatic layer, the design of a close encounter between industry, culture and the public at large at the historical and industrial epicenter of the Shell refineries at Pernis.

. . .


1 PETROCHEMICAL SUBMERSION The start and rise of petrochemical industry in Rotterdam, a stage for international petroleum trade competition. This chapter elaborates on the establishment of Royal Dutch Shell’s facilities at Pernis and how this was influenced by the spirit of the roaring twenties and the international competition between various petroleum companies. Through this study the position is investigated that Royal Dutch Shell and its competitors have had in the city of Rotterdam and their influence on its spatial development. It thereby reveals the narrative multiplicity of the Shell complex at Pernis that already existed when the first ship arrived with a load of gasoline on July 7, 1930. The findings are based on a study of newspaper articles on petrochemical industry in Rotterdam, of newspaper advertisements commissioned, products developed and buildings constructed by Royal Dutch Shell over the twentieth century, and of recordings of the port industry in cultural memory. NOTE TO READER This essay is presented with the title petrochemical submersion, as over the course of roughly one century Rotterdam and its port have slowly been submerged in a culture of petroleum and petrochemistry. Now I intend to also submerge you, the reader, in this history of the port and its petrochemical industry. It is a story of a growing distance between city and port, and of the disconnection between city and water. But also a story about how the situation of a port inside a city, a city-water complex if you will, changed into the industrial port-city complex of the interbellum and eventually into the monofunctional industrial zone that we know today, inaccessible and hostile to outsiders.


INTRODUCTION TO THE PORT OF ROTTERDAM How does one start to explain the complex state of the port at the time where the story takes off? It has dawned on me that understanding the port is not only a matter of studying maps and reading literature. To truely grasp the sense of how space and city are organized by water and port, one needs experience said port at eye-height, to be exposed to the sounds and smells of the industrial activity that produces the port, that constitutes its raison d’être. As such, on the facing page I have compiled three visual accounts of the different stages of the port. 1. De haven van Rotterdam (1861), painting by J. Carmichael. This painting beautifully shows the integration that port and city experienced in its vernacular state in pre-industrial Rotterdam, with the quay as the ultimate median between what happens on water and what happens on land. As such, until the nineteenth century, the city can be characterized as an integrated city-water complex in which the water bodies are an integral part of the city’s infrastructure as well as a spatially organizing system. 2. The last grain elevators in Meer Mensen Minder, film by Jan Schaper. His movie Meer Mensen Minder focusses on the automation of the port and the subsequent decline of personnel, as well as the decreasing number of ‘veters’, the floating grain elevator, the invention of which once heralded an explosion of port activity. These veters had become proud symbols of the early twentieth century port. From the start of the industrial revolution, especially with the introduction of the railway in Rotterdam, the port and city have gradually turned their backs on each other. Modernization of society and the ever-increasing demand for products on the one hand, and the continuous technological advancement leading to ever-increasing scale, efficiency and speed on the other, have resulted in an extreme spatial specialization of both the urban and the port respectively. The resulting incompatibility has determined the disassociated development of city and port ever since. In the late nineteenth century the organization of the port was prioritized over the development of urban areas for the first time. The new south city on the left back of the Meuse, Rotterdam-Zuid, became streaked with infrastructural lines as a result of new railroads, and residential areas were fitted in the leftover spaces between industry and infrastructure. The additional forming of peninsulas between large port basins caused these neighborhoods to often become isolated, leading to socio-economic problems decades later in neighborhoods such as Katendrecht and Feijenoord. As the development of Zuid progressed, the space between port and new residential areas continued to grow and in this space more and more infrastructural lines were inserted. By 1930, the residential area Charlois and the new Waalhaven basin were separated by a distance of as much as two-hundred meters, a space programmed with two roads and a railroad, a dyke and a strip of small scale industries. Small scale port activity still occurred inside the old city-water complex and, when juxtaposed with the unforeseen large scale industrial activity happening across the river, this






caused an incredibly dynamic sight on the Meuse; as such in the Interbellum the port of Rotterdam became for the first time an international tourist attraction. The resulting city of Rotterdam Zuid was fundamentally different from the equilibrium in which port and city had found themselves in the historic city-water complex. The city now conforms to the spatial whims of the industrial port, it has become a port-city complex. 3. Boys trespassing in a container terminal in Weg van de Haven, film by Jan Schaper. In this movie, Jan Schaper points his camera towards the automated container terminal, a vast desolate stretch of asphalt populated only by a few technicians. The implementation of the national highway system and an explosion of port activity during the reconstruction era caused a definitive break in the spatial logic between the two adversaries port and city. In the current situation the port of Rotterdam consists largely of a patchwork of giant industrial areas stretching from the center of Rotterdam all the way to the North Sea. These areas have a grain size and scale incomparable to anything that was constructed in the port before World War II, with single-company-owned sites often

Rotterdam Zuid is no longer a city-water complex but rather a city-port complex: space is determined by infrastructural lines and split into peninsulas by deep port basins. Panorama of a part of the Meuse’s left bank with Feijenoord (1904), by E. Hesmert


stretching over three kilometers, pursuing their industrial activity in complete isolation. As such a monopoly has been established on the left bank of the Meuse by the Port of Rotterdam. Meanwhile, the last port companies have abandoned the center of Rotterdam decades ago and with it the dynamic character of the Meuse has dissipated. An important aspect correlating to the development of enormous monofunctional zones in the port of Rotterdam is the changed nature of the port activity through time. In the nineteenth century already a transition had taken place from piece goods to bulk goods in order to comply with the increasing demands of a growing city population and the increasing international importance of the port of Rotterdam. Industrial developments such as floating cranes and grain elevators accommodated this jump in scale. The twentieth century is mostly characterized by an incredible increase in petroleum (oil) consumption, in amount tripling almost every decade. Rotterdam had a very strategic location at the Rhine Delta with in its hinterland the industrial region Rhein-Ruhr in Germany and the most populous regions of Europe. The enormous increase of petroleum consumption during the interbellum led to the development of the Eerste and Tweede Petroleumhavens near Pernis, the first completely monofunctional industrial zone that was also mostly in use by just one company. It contained first a refinery installation and later also a storage facility (referred to as tank park). The advantages of using petroleum for transportation and manufacturing catalyzed the globalization process which in turn jump-started a new container-based method of shipping goods. The growing industry of container shipment called for another scale increase and the new extraordinarily long journeys these giant container-ships commenced upon heralded the new reputation of Rotterdam as a center for fuel oil. International trade wars and unreliability of for example the Suez Canal in the late 1960s caused another explosion in the scale of shipping and in the need for petroleum storage on the European mainland and the Dutch government used the positive attitude of the postwar reconstruction to once more draw the interest of petrochemical companies to Rotterdam. As such, from the World War II onwards, the left bank of the Meuse was appropriated by Rotterdam to create a 22 kilometer stretch of continuous petrochemical industrial areas, including the Botlek, the Europoort and part of the Maasvlakte. The two movies mentioned were made by Jan Schaper in 1970 and 1969, respectively. In his films on the port of Rotterdam, Schaper often took a critical position towards contemporary industrial developments. The first documents the last breathing moments of the industrial port-city complex, the latter investigates a new phenomenon: the automated port. This last phase change of the port constitutes the central theme of this text. It investigates how the petrochemical industry already in the Interbellum laid the groundwork for this new type of port, and how the government eagerly latched onto the financial benefits of what was to become the biggest port of the world. Petrochemical industry currently constitutes a ‘necessary evil’: an activity we do not wish to be confronted with because of the dangers associated with it and the resulting pollution


and environmental degradation, but also one that we need to maintain our cultural lifestyle made possible by the use of plastics, petrol, diesel, fuel oil (for transcontinental shipping), oil based paints, asphalt, etc. Over the past century, the petrochemical industry has been forced further and further away from urbanized areas and became increasingly disjointed from its immediate surroundings, while maintaining and even increasing an immeasurable influence directly on our politics, economy and environment, and also indirectly yet perhaps more visibly on the layout of our cities, our commuting behavior, the development of throw-away societies`and consumerism and the illegibility of our landscapes.

This graphic combines urban slices of the port of Rotterdam, ordered chronologically, to illustrate the growing physical distance between urban fabric and water. The biggest increase happened between the 1860s and 1940s, from the start of the industrial revolution until the reconstruction era when the disconnection was complete.



Hamburg - BrunsbĂźttel

Port of Rotterdam Ghent - Terneuzen

Rhein-Ruhr area

Port of Antwerp Port of Dunkirk


Major agglomerations of petrochemical complexes in North-West Europe.


5 km

Relative scale of petrochemical complexes in Rotterdam compared to other sites in North-West Europe.


PETROLEUM IN ROTTERDAM: PAKHUISMEESTEREN AND SLUISJESDIJK In 1864, eleven years after the German invention of the petroleum lamp, the supply of lamp petroleum started in Rotterdam, being traded and stored by Pakhuismeesteren, the first Dutch petroleum firm. Afraid of the flammability of this new product which was stored on De Boompjes, in the heart of the old city, the municipal government decided to construct a new municipal storage facility for petroleum near the Mallegat, slightly upstream of what is now Feijenoord. However, because of the financial risk of government-owned warehousing, this decision was repealed soon after and Pakhuismeesteren was gently pushed to explore the possibilities of moving the petroleum storage to the Mallegat. Yet in 1873, when Pakhuismeesteren was moving out of their facility in Rotterdam, the municipality got cold feet for the plan to move the petroleum to Mallegat as this was also the location of the citywide water supply, fearing a petroleum contamination of the drinking water. Finally an agreement was reached, in which Pakhuismeesteren would develop a left bank area called Sluisjesdijk (at that time part of Charlois and outside of the municipal bounds of Rotterdam) into a petroleum storage facility. No money of the municipality was involved; instead, an intricate plan was devised in which the territorial land owner of Charlois would supply funding for the conversion of the Sluisjesdijk, a sum which in turn would be paid off by Pakhuismeesteren by charging a docking fee at the new facility that corresponded to the Rotterdam quay tariffs.1 Disappointingly, the expected growth of the petroleum trade in Rotterdam still had not come to fruition even ten years later, while the petroleum trade in Amsterdam had quickly gained momentum and even surpassed that of Rotterdam by 1883. An investigation into this problem concluded that firstly the isolated position of the new petroleum industry without a railway connection was to blame, and secondly the fact that Pakhuismeesteren had acquired a monopoly on the petroleum trade in Rotterdam.2 Meanwhile, less than thirty years after the invention of the petroleum lamp, American entrepreneur John Rockefeller had fused together 250 American refineries and 39 American petroleum companies into Standard Oil, effectively establishing a monopoly on the American petroleum trade and as a result had quickly become the richest man on earth. Contact between the Rotterdam-based firm Otto Horstmann en Co. and Standard Oil resulted in the establishment of the American Petroleum Company (APC) in 1891, intended by Rockefeller to conquer European petroleum markets and take on the competition of Russian petroleum companies. APC took over six oil tanks constructed by Pakhuismeesteren on the Sluisjesdijk and adopted four tankers from the firm Horstmann, the largest of which could carry approximately 3000 tons of petroleum.3 This effectively negated the monopoly of Pakhuismeesteren in Rotterdam. 1.  Rotterdam als Petroleum- en Benzinehaven I : Qui aura le pêtrole aura l’Empire. Rotterdamsch Nieuwsblad 05-01-1927. 2.  Ibid, note 1. The investigation committee noted that the monopoly was never abused by Pakhuismeesteren and only acquired because of their innovative trading spirit. 3.  Rotterdam als Petroleum- en Benzinehaven II. Rotterdamsch Nieuwsblad 06-01-1927.





Rotterdan in 1896 showing with the black arrow the relocation of Pakhuismeesteren from De Boompjes to Sluisjesdijk.

On the other end of the Sluisjesdijk, also neighboring Pakhuismeesteren, was located the Koninklijke Nederlandse Petroleum Maatschappij, APC’s biggest competitor. KNPM (internationally known as the Royal Dutch) was formed in 1890 by three entrepreneurs who, funded by the government, were allowed to drill for oil in the Dutch East Indies. At that time gasoline was considered a dangerous by-product of the production of kerosene from oil. It was mostly burned because KNPM was not allowed to ship gasoline in their relatively primitive wooden barrels through the Suez Canal. From then on, for some forty years, the Sluisjesdijk in Rotterdam became the playground of a number of competing international petroleum companies that continually played a significant role locally in the modernization of the city and the expansion of the port, as well as nationally in the development of car culture and modern urban planning. Through this competition Rotterdam could grow out to become the most important petrochemical storage, trading and shipping location in Europe.

THE BRASS ERA: DEMOCRATIZATION OF PETROCHEMICAL PRODUCTS From 1905 the automobile was no longer just an accessory for the rich, but also very slowly became accessible for the classes below. Before the first World War the basic automobile formally crystallized because of the end of heavy experimentation with shapes and the development of a standard type car by Panhard in 1895 which was licensed throughout the world. This coincided with a more integral design approach towards a genuine automobile


instead of a motorized cart, heralding what is referred to as the Brass Era (1905-1918). The term originated in the United States and refers to the prominent brass fittings that were used on cars for lighting and radiators. This development opened up the emerging market for gasoline and this led KNPM to introduce raw gasoline in the petrochemical complex at the Sluisjesdijk for the first time in 1902. The company established on their location at the Sluisjesdijk an elaborate installation for not only the storage of petroleum and gasoline, but also for the refinery of massive amounts of crude oil shipped to Rotterdam. By 1906, gasoline had a reasonable market in the Netherlands. In 1907, the KNPM allied with the British Shell Transport and Trading Company, which had been exploring the oil trade since the late 19th century, and together formed the Royal Dutch Shell group. KNPM would gain full control over Shell’s oil resources while Shell would retain the British transportation branch.4 APC only started to ship and store raw gasoline at their Rotterdam facility by 1914, again competing with the KNPM, but this delay did not affect their market share. Instead, APC became the leading importer of petroleum over the next decade. The BPM (Bataafse Petroleum Maatschappij) or de Bataafse, was a subsidiary of the new Royal Dutch Shell Group founded by one of the original three founders of KNPM and responsible for the transport of petroleum from Sumatra and Borneo to Rotterdam. During the first half of the twentieth century, the names KNPM, Royal Dutch, BPM and Shell are used interchangeably and inconsistently in the sources cited. In this text both the names Shell, Royal Dutch Shell and KNPM will be used to refer to the Dutch-British company from this point forward, to remain true to the sources. BPM was the official owner and operator of the petrochemical facilities in Rotterdam and its name will be used only if matters specifically apply to the BPM branch of Shell. In light of the ever increasing demand for petroleum and its products, BPM commissioned in 1915 the construction of a headquarters in the new neighborhood of Benoordenhout in The Hague. The architects M. and J. Nieukerken based their architecture on that of the Golden Age of the Netherlands, when the country had the most powerful economic position in the world due to transcontinental trade. Presumably the intention of the architecture of this building was to give a prelude to perhaps another golden age for the Netherlands in light of the quickly increasing demand for petroleum and the fast growth of the Dutch petroleum trade. The emergence of the gasoline market for private car owners and the strategy adopted by the Royal Dutch Shell in light of this development shows in its advertising behavior. During the first decade of the 20th century, Shell only advertised targeting shareholders and possible investors, as well as occasionally looking for bulk purchasers and transporters. At that time petroleum was mostly a product for speculation. In 1910 the first consumer-oriented petroleum advertisement shows up in Bataviaasch Nieuwsblad. It is an advertisement for Shell’s Motorspirit, citing French aviation pioneer Louis Paulhan’s account 4.  Koninklijke en Shell. Algemeen Handelsblad 14-09-1906.


BPM Headquarters in The Hague by J. and M. Nieukerken (1915)

of how using Motorspirit helped him win a 10.000 pound prize by winning the London to Manchester Air Race.5 In the 1920s, Shell starts targeting Dutch car owners with advertising in newspapers. The Delpher database of Dutch newspapers shows 770 advertisements in the 1920s containing the words ‘Shell’ and ‘petroleum’, compared to only 37 in the 1910s. The content of these advertisements generally argues how the petroleum of Shell is more efficient or economical and surpasses the quality of all foreign suppliers, directly pointing to the fierce petroleum trade competition that Royal Dutch Shell experienced during the early twentieth century. The Indische Courant of 1926 shows page filling adverts of Shell promoting their new brand ‘Autoline’ together with an ad by Chevrolet for travelling by car. These advertisements illustrate not only that the automobile industry is increasingly focusing on domestic car use, but also that the Royal Dutch Shell over the course of the 1910s and 1920s shifted its interest from industrial grade oil and refining to marketing specific consumer products with marketable names and slogans. As the Royal Dutch Shell, being a Dutch-British cooperation, firstly had complete control of the Dutch oil resources as well as a portion of the British owned resources, secondly also contained subsidiary BPM, the importer of oil from Sumatra and Borneo, and thirdly owned its own refinery installations at the Sluisjesdijk, their marketing directly targeted at the consumer shows the start of what will become a completely vertically integrated oil company.

5.  Hoe Shell Motorspirit heeft meegeholpen om £10.000 te winnen. De Sumatra post 19-07-1910. The article mentions someone named M. Paulhan, presumably referring to Louis Paulhan’s third middle name Marie.


URBAN ASPIRATIONS IN THE INTERBELLUM During the interbellum, Rotterdam and other large cities in the Netherlands became hotbeds of modernity and their population was in constant awe of the technological developments exhibited to them in the then emerging department stores. By 1927 the city had changed unrecognizably as a result of the invention of oil and gasoline engines. The use of these inventions in World War I caused enormous acceleration of their technological development and people profited from this during the following peacetime.6 In the 19th century, the large scale industrial activity was new to cities like Rotterdam and generally disliked as it conflicted with the old image of Rotterdam as a beautiful 17th century merchant city, but the new advantages caused the view towards the industry to shift to a more appreciative one.7 During the interbellum the industrial structures and activity symbolized the rapid growth and economical success of the city brought to it by the industrial revolution. To achieve this, Rotterdam of course benefited from the development of the industrial south city, the port-city complex that is Rotterdam Zuid, which mostly relieved the center of the city, the historic city-water complex, of its loathed heavy industrial function. The industrial port was documented in cultural memory by painters such as Herman Heijenbrock who found beauty in the dynamic of the activity and the many insect-like objects floating through the port, constructed to enhance its efficiency and capacity (such as floating grain elevators). At some point the port was even a tourist destination as the violently dynamic Meuse became crowded with all kinds of ships and industry-related machines. The rapid increase of scale of the port activity and the simultaneous development of massive civil works such as new port basins and infrastructural projects became popular subjects of then emerging media of photography and filmography. A photograph of the construction of the first vertical-lift railroad bridge of Europe was published in De Maasbode, showing railway engineer C.M. Cox defying great heights on a steel girder, similar the famous New York photograph “Lunch atop a skyscraper”, but preceding it by as much as six years8. In 1928, Dutch film-making pioneer Joris Ivens produced a short documentary film on the construction of this bridge titled De Brug. The rapid growth of port related companies spawned numerous office buildings throughout the historic city, each presenting ever-surpassing technological advancements such as elevators and central ventilation, and each asserting its own presence in the skyline of Rotterdam. The office buildings were much larger than the typical grain of the historic urban fabric and made use of extremely steep roofs to reach new heights on which logos and commercial texts could be displayed. This all contributed to the transformation Rotterdam was going through, from an old 17th century merchant city weighed down with the burden of heavy industrial activity, to a more integrated industrial city that profited from the presence of large international port-related companies, putting Rotterdam prominently on the world map. From this metropolitan and 6.  Rotterdam als Petroleum- en Benzinehaven II. Rotterdamsch Nieuwsblad 06-01-1927. 7.  Imagine a Metropolis. Rotterdam’s Creative Class, 1970-2000. Patricia van Ulzen. 010 Uitgevers (Rotterdam, 2007) 8.  “Twee mannen bovenop spoorbrug De Hef in aanbouw in 1926”. Photo published in De Maasbode, 02-051926, and retrieved from Stadsarchief Rotterdam. Document number 4100_X-59-01-1.


international atmosphere the nickname Manhattan on the Meuse was derived, which is often wrongly attributed to the presence of postwar high rise buildings on the peninsula-shaped Wilhelminapier. Royal Dutch Shell responded to these developments by broadening its focus from automobile products to other areas in which petrochemical products could prove valuable and as such tried to address various types of audiences. It firstly latched onto the general consensus that the contemporary age was one of great technological advancements, by presenting itself as a key-driver for innovation. For example, a 1926 ad claims that all first flights have been conducted with Shell gasoline and Shell motor oil.9 Simultaneously, Shell answered to the emergence of the nuclear family and rising standards of living by addressing households through the development of all kinds of cleaning products, such as Shell floor polish, furniture polish, car polish, household oil, Shell stain-remover and Shelltox (wipes out any insect completely).10 Meanwhile, Royal Dutch Shell and other international petroleum companies spawned numerous monumental buildings and structures in major cities all over the Western world, employing architecture as a tool for competition and asserting dominance on a location. The first major construction project overseas was George Kelham’s art deco styled Shell tower (1929) in San Francisco. With the construction of this building, Shell latched onto the early twentieth century explosion of American cities and the accompanied metropolitanism, while simultaneously asserting their important position in the petroleum trade on the United States mainland, thereby provoking competition with Standard Oil. Alternatively, in 1932, The Royal Shell Group decided to merge its UK Marketing operations with BP (British Petroleum), the other major petroleum company of the UK, further expanding the Shell brand into a united European petroleum bloc. They settled in their newly constructed Shell House, a massive art deco styled office building on the Thames in London. In 1924, the APC had already opened their massive Art Deco styled headquarters Petrolea (also known as De Rode Olifant), prominently located on the edge of the Malieveld in The Hague. Because of metropolitanism and the awesome urban growth that Rotterdam had experienced over the first two decades of the twentieth century, there was a strong belief that inevitably the city was to grow into a giant metropolis of over a million inhabitants. This belief had inspired the municipal government and its department of urban expansion and construction to come up with strategies for how to lead this growth in the right direction. Although there were reasonable considerations about whether this prospect was plausible or not, it also gave the municipality the liberty to dream about what Rotterdam could be in the future, and the dreams about a Zuid-Holland metropolis were soon referred to as the Toekomststad.11 The municipality’s department of urban expansion and construc9.  Shell advertisement in Het nieuws van den dag voor Nederlands-Indië, 20 september 1926. 10.  Shell advertisement in Onze Courant, 11 juni 1931. 11.  De Raadszitting van gisteren : kroniek en critiek. Rotterdamsch Nieuwsblad, 17-02-1928.


Railway engineer C.W. Cox atop De Hef under construction (1926). Published in De Maasbode.

Floating grain elevators in the Rotterdam port, painted by Herman Heijenbrock, 1924.


Office building commissioned by the Stoomboot & Transportonderneming, designed by De Roos & Overeijnder in 1915, showing the distinctive shape of emerging maritime office buildings at the time.

Dudok’s Bijenkorf on the Coolsingel, with in the foreground cars and a Shell gasoline station (1939), photograph by Jan van der Kamp.


tion12 developed an expansion plan titled Algemeen Uitbreidingsplan Rotterdam (AUR), under supervision of W.G. Witteveen, well known for his later development Blijdorp and his plans for reconstruction of the Rotterdam central city after its May 1940 bombing. Developed from 1925 and published in 1928, Rotterdam was ahead of other Dutch cities Eindhoven and Amsterdam that developed their own expansion plans respectively in 1930 and 1934/’35. Part of the AUR was the Great Annexation Plan that included annexing eighteen neighboring municipalities such as Schiedam, Vlaardingen, Pernis and Hoogvliet. The annexation of these municipalities was assumed necessary for the plans of developing a large metropolis to be effective, as these municipalities had already grown nearer to each other and it had become practically impossible to arrange more urban development within the city limits of Rotterdam.13 In addition, the current situation was deemed problematic as the many small neighboring municipalities relied heavily on cultural and social institutions existing in Rotterdam without sharing in the financial burden. Although Witteveen originally presented the plan as a regional plan and emphasized the necessity for discussion with the neighboring municipalities, the attitude with which the Rotterdam municipality carried out the plan ultimately proved problematic, without consulting the municipalities to be annexed and assuming most of them would be very willing to join the future Rotterdam metropolis. When the plan was considered by the Rotterdam municipal council, Schiedam, whose annexation would serve as a bridge to Vlaardingen, was the first to protest.14 RELOCATION OF AN INDUSTRY The new modernity breeding in Rotterdam and the Netherlands also heralded an explosion of petroleum consumption, as a result of artificially inflated tariffs for alternative energy resources (gas and electricity) by the government, as well as high consumption of petroleum on the countryside. By 1925 the total import of petroleum in Rotterdam had reached 205.000 tons in addition to 852.000 tons of crude oil.15 The import of the more and more popular gasoline had increased from 42.000 tons to 114.000 tons between 1920 and 1925, although the portion stemming from the Dutch East Indies had decreased from 67% to a mere 15%. A change of market leader had been the cause of this shift of petroleum origins: for the most part the leading importer had become the APC, shipping 60.000 tons of gasoline from the United States to Rotterdam, accounting for 53% of the total import. Simultaneous price drops for gasoline as a result of the trade war accounted for much of the increase of its use, and caused such growth of the petroleum port at the Sluisjesdijk that further expansion had simply become impossible. This, as well as the turn-of-the-century growth of Rotterdam and its port eventually completely enveloping the Sluisjesdijk, led to discussion about a new location for petrochemical industry in the city. In 1925 the petrochemical companies had just reached an agreement with the municipal12.  Afdeeling van stadsuitbreiding en gebouwen 13.  “Algemeen Uitbreidingsplan” & “De noodzaak van een Algemeen Uitbreidingsplan”, pp39-43. W.G. Witteveen en Rotterdam. Noor Mens, 2007, 010 Publishers. 14.  Ibid, note 13 15.  Ibid, note 6


Algemeen Uitbreidingsplan Rotterdam (1928), developed by W.G. Witteveen. The red line shows the expected extension of the Rotterdam municipality. The darkened area highlights the land of the municipality of Pernis.

ity to stay at their location for another ten years. In light of this extended stay and to battle the bothersome isolation of the location at Sluisjesdijk, the municipal government had decided in 1927 to construct another small petroleum port near the Keilehaven on the right bank of the Meuse, specifically for the distribution of petroleum products to the city by Shell, Texaco and the Continental Petroleum Company.16 Still, as the petrochemical industry continued to grow on its location at the Sluisjesdijk, the safety concerns of the municipal government grew at the same rate, leading to the question of what would happen when the agreement would terminate in 1935. Of the companies, Royal Dutch Shell was the most favorable towards moving to a new location, as their equipment was the most valuable and their company the most likely to grow during the following years. In January 1927, the Rotterdamsch Nieuwsblad voiced the municipality’s concerns about storage of highly flam16.  De benzine- en petroleumdistributie op den Rechter Maasoever. Rotterdamsch Nieuwsblad 23-08-1927.


Sluisjesdijk in 1928. As a result of the construction of the Waalhaven basin, Sluisjesdijk, the location of the petrochemical industry, had become a peninsula and was suddenly situated in the center of the new port. Simultaneously, the adjacent village of Charlois had transformed into a high density residential neighborhood. Ultimately limited in its spatial expansion, the petroleum companies could only densify their current sites, adding to the dangerous situation.

mable liquids in the center of the new port on the Meuse’s left bank, and contrasted this with the “enormous meaning that crude oil and all its products have acquired for the world in peace and in war”, underlining once again the technological developments this industry had propelled.17 The main concern of the municipal government was that in the contemporary situation, in which the core of the port activity had shifted more downstream, the petroleum industry in case of a fire could cause a disaster for the entire port. Discussion about a potential new location of the petrochemical complexes further downstream pointed to the risk of even more isolation of the industry, already problematic on its contemporary location at the Sluisjesdijk.18 Another point of discussion was the position of the petroleum installations; The former director of Public Works ir. Van IJsselstein had proposed to establish the new refineries directly along the open river rather than on a new port basin, which in his opinion would cause the damage of a fire to be much larger. Opposing parties argued that they would rather see a new petrol port that could be entirely closed with gates, and as such be able to contain the burning fluids within a delimited zone. More important than deliberations about safety and isolation, yet less prominently featured in critical newspaper articles at the time, was the financial benefit that came with retaining the petrochemical industry within the municipal boundaries of the city. Ultimately the most important goal for the municipal government in this question was to secure a new location of the petroleum industry and port such that it was located far enough from 17.  Rotterdam als Petroleum- en Benzinehaven III. Rotterdamsch nieuwsblad 20-01-1927. 18.  It has to be noted that this isolation was viewed in a context in which the petrochemical products were directly shipped to the city across the river, in contrast to the current situation in which most petrochemical products of Shell leave Rotterdam immediately via truck or boat or even pipeline.


urbanized areas to ensure safety, but still close enough for the city to profit from the lucrative petroleum trade. The solution to this question lay within the AUR: Rotterdam was ought to expand vastly within the next few years and as such the municipalities to be annexed became potential new locations for the petrochemical industry. As the right bank of the Meuse was home to small cities such as Schiedam and Vlaardingen and the left bank was still largely agricultural, Witteveen had assigned the expansion of the port to the left bank accordingly. Therefore, the most obvious location to explore was Pernis, the most peripheral left bank location that was still included in the AUR’s General Expansion Plan, at the time ironically referred to as “De Groote Opslokking” 19. The plans of Witteveen already included the additional annexation of Pernis-adjacent Hoogvliet. Because of the potential development of Pernis as an industrial site, soon also Rhoon and Poortugaal had to be considered, needed for construction of the industrial railroads and streets. Pernis however would not accept the development of a new petroleum port on its land unless the municipality was annexed immediately by Rotterdam, instead of waiting for the slow conclusion of the general annexation plans serving the AUR.20 The main concern of Pernis was the enormous responsibility that operating a modern port development would bring to their small rural municipality, especially in the fields of health, safety and supervision. In contrast to other municipalities to be annexed, Pernis was seriously in favor of becoming part of Rotterdam21, and a potential annexation agreement would transfer these difficulties of handling the petrochemical port to the municipality of Rotterdam. “Carrying the burdens but not sharing in the benefits of the big city, we won’t have it”, argued the municipal council of Pernis.22 In light of the nearing expiration of its land lease for the Sluisjesdijk, BPM started looking for alternative locations in IJmuiden and Maassluis. These alternatives would be instrumental for the contract negotiations with the city of Rotterdam about relocation within the municipal bounds. Maassluis was used as leverage against Rotterdam, as moving the petrochemical facilities slightly downstream outside of the municipal limits would evaporate the financial benefit for which the city was aiming. The Breesaap near IJmuiden (the former village located where is now Tata Steel) was a potential alternative in another province and BPM already partnered with Koninklijke Nederlandse Hoogovens in the construction of a nitrogen plant, thereby prematurely securing their interest in the Noord-Holland location.23 On February 17, 1928, the municipality had come to an agreement with BPM on the development of a new Petroleum port between the rural village of Pernis and what was then called the Vondelingenplaat. The proposal would quadruple the size of BPM to 40 hectares from the 10 hectares at its Sluisjesdijk location, and BPM would receive a ten year option to 19.  Nieuw petroleumterrein aan de Vondelingenplaat. Rotterdamsch Nieuwsblad, 17-02-1928. 20.  De Nieuwe Petroleumhaven : Pernis weigert zijn medewerking. Rotterdamsch Nieuwsblad, 27-09-1928. 21.  Rotterdam en Pernis : Aanleg van een petroleumhaven op de Vondelingenplaat. Het Vaderland: staat- en letterkundig nieuwsblad. 02-02-1929. 22.  De Petroleumhaven onder Pernis. De Tribune: Sociaal Democratisch Weekblad, 13-10-1928. 23.  De Bataafse naar IJmuiden? Rotterdams Nieuwsblad, 05-10-1928.


Map of Pernis (1920) overlaid with the first published plan of the Eerste Petroleumhaven (1928), from Rotterdamsch Nieuwsblad 10-02-1928. On the opposite side of the Meuse the city of Vlaardingen is visible.

expand even further to 60 hectares. According to the contract the new port would occupy much of the downstream agricultural land of the Pernis municipality. In June the municipality requested Pernis for permission to construct the new port basin. The demand of Pernis for hastened annexation severely jeopardized the position of the Rotterdam municipality in the contract negotiations with BPM, supervised by mayor Johannes Wytema. According to the agreement the new port had to be constructed such that the industrial installations could be moved there by 1930, leading to great urgency for the ratification of the Great Annexation Plan. This, as well as the major fines associated with a breach of contract and the looming expiration of the contract for the Sluisjesdijk location, led the Rotterdam municipality to understand that the Pernis annexation had to be reviewed separately from the AUR.24 Not only did the contract between the municipality of Rotterdam and the BPM put the urgent burden of construction of the new port entirely on the shoulders of the municipality, the financial terms were also greatly in favor of BPM, as it had persistently threatened to move its activity from Rotterdam to Maassluis during the negotiations. Construction 24.  De Raadszitting van gisteren : kroniek en critiek. Rotterdamsch Nieuwsblad, 17-02-1928.


Satirical cartoon published in the Rotterdamsch Nieuwsblad in 1928, depicting the eagerness of the Rotterdam municipality to secure financial interests in the port.

expenses would be borne by the municipality and in return KNPM would pay between 150.000 and 200.000 guilders per year, but it was clear that this sum could not even cover the construction expenses if everything went according to plan. Moreover, by October it already became clear that the expenses would be much higher than anticipated. 25 Rotterdamsch Nieuwsblad ironically referred to the contract with KNPM as another addition to the harem of “Pacha Rotterdam”.26 The last month of Wytema’s administration were characterized by a sickness he developed while travelling on a ship to Marseille, until his untimely death at 57 on July 11, 1928. As a result, both the AUR and the annexation of Pernis were severely delayed, while the sluisjesdijk location was still burdened with an expiring land lease. On September 26, Pernis declined the request for permission to construct a new port basin submitted in June by the late mayor Wytema, pointing to the annexation that still had not been discussed by the municipal council of Rotterdam.27 25.  De weigering van Pernis om mee te werken aan den Rotterdamschen havenaanleg : Het contract met “de Koninklijke” in gevaar?. Rotterdamsch Nieuwsblad, 03-10-1928. 26.  Pacha, was until 1935 a title for the highest ranking officers in the Ottoman empire, and can be considered ‘sub-kings’, often with vast harems. The drawing implicates that the Rotterdam municipality bows to any large port company that offers it a chance to profit financially, KNPM being the latest catch. 27.  De petroleumhaven op de Vondelingenplaat : het annexatievraagstuk acuut. Voorwaarts : sociaal-democratisch dagblad, 28-09-1928.


Pieter Drooglever Fortuyn was appointed mayor of Rotterdam and entered office on October 15, 1928. This change of adminstrative power at the highest municipal order was a turning point in the heat of discussion between the municipality and Pernis about its annexation. Wytema was an academic and lifetime civil servant while his successor Pieter Fortuyn was a liberal business man. Fortuyn inherited a municipal portfolio with manifold civil projects stalled due to Wytema’s illness and the search for a new mayor, and vowed to fast track each one of these, beginning with the annexation of Pernis.28

J. (Johannes) Wytema

P. (Pieter) Droogleever Fortuyn

Mayor 1923 - July 1928

Mayor July 1928 - 1938

THE CONCLUSION OF THE GREAT OIL DILEMMA On April 10, 1929, the municipal council of Pernis agreed to the revised terms for immediate annexation proposed by Rotterdam.29 Pernis, Hoogvliet and Rhoon were guaranteed to be annexed by 1934 and, as reciprocal service, Pernis would immediately allow the start of construction on the new petroleum port on its land. One day later, the annexation plans of Rotterdam were presented to the provincial council30 which, usually concerned with rather small reactionary decisions, was shocked by the scale at which the municipality was determined to expand. It would proceed to advice against approving the Great Annexation Plan in favor of seeking a different solution to Rotterdam’s metropolitan aspirations. Nevertheless, the council did approve the annexation of Pernis, as it was aware of the threat that if BPM couldn’t start its move to the new port by 1930 it would take its business to another municipality (Maassluis) or worse, to another province (IJmuiden in Noord-Holland). From 28.  Ibid, note 27. 29.  Vergunning van de gemeente Pernis tot aanleg Petroleumhaven. Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant, 11-04-1929. 30.  Gedeputeerde Staten


then on the provincial council could not remain deaf towards the direct capitalist interest of keeping the petroleum companies inside the municipality of Rotterdam.31 Some days later the ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, responsible for border changes and annexations, ultimately declined Rotterdam’s great annexation plan following the advice of the provincial council, and with it erased the foundation of Witteveen’s AUR, but approved the annexation of Pernis. On April 15, 1929, the decision was discussed by the Rotterdam municipal council and it accepted the ultimate demise of the Great Annexation Plan in favor of an immediate annexation of Pernis, as fighting back would also lead to a delay of the latter. Even though there were other forces working against the great annexation plan, the attitude of the municipality illustrates clearly that it had prioritized securing the interest of major petroleum companies inside its municipal boundaries over a well-structured expansion of Rotterdam as a Zuid-Holland metropolis. In short, the wish of the municipality to retain the industry within their city limits gave the petroleum companies an extremely favorable position in negotiations about the location and the contract for construction. The result of the negotiations proved the power that petroleum companies could exert on governmental institutions and as such on the spatial development of something as large and unwieldy as a city. Finding a balance between moving a potentially disastrous industry out of the city and securing a long-term profit from it simultaneously, the municipality allowed the petroleum companies to embark upon a complete colonization of the Meuse’s left bank spanning almost fifty years, until the first ships moored on the Maasvlakte I in 1973.

Rotterdam as represented on the national topographical map in 1940 (before the bombing of the center), with the new Eerste Petroleumhaven and its industrial sites on the far left.

31.  Rotterdam en Pernis : De petroleumhaven wordt gegraven. De Tribune: socialistisch democratisch weekblad. 16-04-1929.


In 1938, perhaps celebrating the finish of its low-cost relocation, BPM expanded its headquarters in The Hague, after a competition commissioning the important Dutch architect J.J.P. Oud who designed a mix between a modern office slab and decorative architecture. It was the last petroleum building constructed before World War II. The wartime played an important role in the development and unexpectedly fast growth of the new petrochemical port. While in the first year of the war the price of petroleum was almost doubled, gasoline only increased slightly in price and was also less easily replaced as a fuel for cars. Reportedly the consumption of petroleum had dropped to 25% compared to the last year of peacetime, yet gasoline remained a vital import product. The unabated gasoline consumption was met by American importers, but because of the unreliability of other ports during the wartime, the need for storage of gasoline in Rotterdam in order to build up a reserve greatly increased. This was met by the first extension of the petrochemical complex at Pernis in 1940.32 Subsequently extended on a number of occasions, the Pernis refinery of Royal Dutch Shell became the biggest in the world and the location for the first Shell building in the Netherlands. The architecture of Oud’s BPM building in The Hague was echoed in Kees Abspoel’s design for the Shell Central Office at the refineries in 1957, perhaps to underline the close relationship between parent and subsidiary oil companies. The new Shell Central Office was the first major office building of Shell in the Netherlands, constructed close to the new highway A15. Presented as a slab perpendicular to the highway route, it uses the advantage of a billboard-like setup and as such asserts a dominant position in the Rotterdam road network which, of course, carries the main consumers of Shell’s gasoline products.

A NEW NARRATIVE FOR THE PETROCHEMICAL INDUSTRY The view with which the municipal, provincial and national governments approached the petrochemical industry swayed throughout the years. With the establishment of Shell Pernis, formation of an opinion on petrochemical industry consisted of finding a balance between the threats of potential disaster close to high density urbanized areas and the financial benefits that were inevitably involved with containing the industry within city limits and later within national borders, disregarding urban developments in the long term and on a much larger scale. This evidently led to rushed agreements between companies and municipalities, the particularities of which later caused disruption of more ideological and long term goals. During the reconstruction era the governmental opportunism of the interbellum made way for a proactive approach to the attraction of petrochemical industry to the port of Rotterdam. As it was incorporated in national strategies for lifting the Dutch economy out of the wartime depression, the petrochemical industry was slowly stripped of its reputation 32.  Uitbreiding aan de petroleumhaven : Nieuwe tanks bij pakhuismeesteren. Rotterdamsch Nieuwsblad, 09-051940.


Damming the Brielsche Maas, as presented by the Polygoonjournaal in 1950.

as a dangerous activity. It became a symbol for technological progress and the prosperity that Dutch citizens experienced throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Simultaneously, the suburbanization of cities and the accompanied lower density of urban expansion schemes, as well as the general governmental consensus on the necessity of constructing major highway thoroughfares, made it easier to create physical distance between the petrochemical complexes and urbanized areas. These developments in urban planning relieved government institutions and city planners of their dilemma of integrating dangerous industrial complexes in urbanized areas for financial benefit. This heralded the enormous expansion of petrochemical complexes on the Meuse’s left bank including the Botlek (1954-1960) and the Europoort (1958-1964), but also the construction of a new city specifically for laborers of the refineries, Hoogvliet. In 1950 the Brielsche Maas was dammed, effectively turning it into a sixteen kilometer long recreational lake, running parallel to the Nieuwe Waterweg all the way from the North sea to the end of island Rozenburg. Damming this river branch paved the way for plan-Botlek. Originally conceived as a third petroleum port covering 350 hectares in December of 195133, the plan was subsequently enlarged to as much as 1310 hectares by December of 1952 (in comparison, BPM moved to a 40 hectare location in 1930).34 With the development of this plan, the possibility of turning the entire length of the Nieuwe Waterweg into a grand 33. Burgemeester Oud (65): 10 jaren Rotterdam – Er wacht nog veel werk. De Telegraaf, 04-12-1951. 34. Eerste paal voor brug bij Spijkenisse : Plan-Botlek komt in uitvoering. Trouw, 24-12-1952.


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Ma as k te


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Petrochemical sites in the port of Rotterdam that were completed n the reconstruction era.




industrial strait was first uttered by mayor Oud.35 The main driving force for the project presented in the media was the incredible increase of the Dutch oil consumption: in 1939 the import of oil to Rotterdam amounted to 2.750.000 tons, by 1950 it had increased to 7.750.000 tons. Around the planning of the Botlek the tone of journalistic writing changed drastically from the critical journalism that surrounded the planning of the petroleum port at Pernis. While before World War II the plans of the port extension were considered by local newspapers a solution to a dangerous situation involving both a financial benefit and a financial burden, the postwar plans were mainly presented in national newspapers such as Trouw and Telegraaf as a reward for the hard working spirit of proud Rotterdammers. Rotterdam mayor Pieter Oud consistently emphasized the national importance of constructing such a project. Progress of construction of the project was presented to the public at large through media such as the Polygoonjournaal. The Europoort involved the construction of a 3600 hectare industrial zone, specifically for more petrochemical storage and facilities, a project of unprecedented scale. Nico Koomans, director of the Rotterdam Port Authority at the time, argued that “although Rotterdam hadn’t asked for the influx of ships of such a massive scale, it cannot remain passive either and has to be able to accommodate them.”36 This argumentation, suggesting a surrender to international developments in order to stay economically relevant, was complemented by the emphasis on a supranational necessity of the project for the European community, showing in the name Europoort37. OLIEWIJK HOOGVLIET Besides the massive industrial projects, the petrochemical industry also came to play an important role in the urban conception of Rotterdam’s reconstruction. This is directly visible in the conception of the Netherlands’ first new town, Hoogvliet. To illustrate, the first neighborhood to be constructed in the framework of the city’s reconstruction was Nieuw Engeland38, a part of Hoogvliet colloquially known as Oliebuurt39, a mere 300 meters away from the refinery site at the Eerste Petroleumhaven. Constructing a residential neighborhood this close to the new petrochemical complex was in direct conflict with the Interbellum intention of removing this type of industry as far away from urbanized areas 35. Ibid, note 33. “Dus nog verder naar het Westen… Nederland schijnt bezig zich van Rotterdam tot de Hoek van Holland een soort groot-industriële Langstraat te scheppen, met de Waterweg als ruggegraat en half Europa tot achterland.” 36. ‘Europoort nodig!’ ‘Behoud de Beer!’ : Pro en contra voor VARA-TV. Het Vrije Volk: democratisch-socialistisch dagblad, 12-11-1957. 37. At first titled Europort, later changed to Europoort to reflect the balance between its importance nationally as well as for the European continent. ‘Europoort’ : Een vondst! Het Vrije Volk: democratisch-socialistisch dagblad, 08-11-1957. 38. “Oliebuurt blijkt postadres bij ontduiken huisdelers-regeling”. Het Vrije Volk : democratisch-socialistisch dagblad, 30-12-1987 39. Oil Neighborhood


as possible, but it fit well with the narrative constructed around petrochemical industry during the reconstruction era, as well as with the strategies developed for the reconstruction of Rotterdam. After the war, short work was made of the metropolitan ideals of the Interbellum. During the wartime, Willem van Tijen and Alexander Bos had penned down their thoughts and published these in 1946 under the title De stad der toekomst, de toekomst der stad40, in a way a modernist extension piece of the Garden Cities of Tomorrow (1902) of Ebenezer Howard. The wijkgedachte41, propagated in this publication, became the brainchild of mayor Pieter Oud and the ideology of the reconstruction, and as such it quickly spread across the rest of the Netherlands. The most important concept of the wijkgedachte was decentralization of the city for the purpose of self-governance of urban quarters and districts, based on a belief that most previous efforts to re-envision Rotterdam as a coherent metropolis had failed as a result of the disordered development of the city in the nineteenth century. As stated by Van Tijen and Bos in their publication: “The wijkgedachte is based on the notion that all efforts for the establishment of the metropolitan community and culture have failed for the most part, because the city in all its chaotic clutteredness has been unable to provide the breeding ground essential for the formation of the true community and unity of lifestyle. After all, for their fruition these require a set of conditions: clarity and totality, the possibility for the human to experience all manifestations of life as facets of one lifestyle totality.” 42 As such, the wijkgedachte was directly at odds with the metropolitan vision for the city developed in the Interbellum by Witteveen, and the ideal of the metropolis that neighboring municipalities would eagerly join to share in the benefits of a city on a global scale. Still, the fact that the wijkgedachte and its decentralization was a Rotterdam invention should come as no surprise, as Rotterdam in its postwar years simply did not have a city center anymore: the high-velocity urban and cultural anchor that was the driving force for neighboring municipalities to desire annexation had dissipated. When in 1948 the wijkgedachte was made an example of for the entire country, the city of Rotterdam put its argumentation into simple words: “Can we blame for example an inhabitant of Hoek van Holland for not showing an interest in that which, thirty kilometers away, is decided for him by the municipal council?”43 The plans for reconstruction of Rotterdam outlined the future of the city. In the Basisplan, Cornelis van Traa used the wijkgedachte and the ideas of Alexander Bos and Willem van Tijen to redefine the meaning of an urban center and its relation to the rest of the city. 40. The city of the future, the future of the city 41. Roughly translated as the “neighborhood idea”, a frame of thought in which the neighborhood is the most important scale. 42. De stad der toekomst, de toekomst der stad. An urban and social-cultural study of the growth of the metropolitan community, by Alexander Bosch and Willem van Tijen (Rotterdam, 1946). 43. Rotterdam stelt wijkgedachte ten voorbeeld aan het land. De Volkskrant, 04-12-1948


While Witteveen in his 1941 reconstruction plan opted for a monumental reinstatement of the heart of the unified metropolis he had been striving for, the Basisplan can be understood as a part of a total concept for the reconstruction, transformation and expansion of the city into a metropolis structured by the theory of the wijkgedachte. The devastated stadsdriehoek was destined to become an administrative center with a representative character, containing tertiary functions such as corporate offices, a maritime center, cultural facilities and the regional government. Newspapers announced that the dislodged population would be prevented from returning to the new center. Instead, the growing population of Rotterdam would be housed in modern expansion boroughs (conjoined with the urban body of the city) and satellite cities (detached from the city) located in the periphery of the Rotterdam agglomeration, each with its own spiritual and cultural center44. To some extent even in governmental independence, to promote “a healthy community life and good citizen will, carried by a democratic spirit”45. In June 1947 the new construction task was first published: satellite cities will spawn on both banks of the Meuse, in the Kleipolder, in IJsselmonde, in Overschie – and in Hoogvliet. At that time, Hoogvliet was no more than a rural village, although already in 1939 a small residential neighborhood had been constructed near this location to serve the petroleum industry. On this site, a new satellite city would be erected at less than 400 meters distance from the Shell refineries. 46 The reason for the transformation of Hoogvliet into a satellite city was the incredibly fast expansion of the petrochemical industry around the petroleum ports and the to be constructed Botlek. Its construction became even more urgent when, in 1952, Shell announced another expansion of the Pernis complex that would almost double its size. The municipality of Rotterdam had expected to attract the A.P.C. to construct its biggest oil refinery yet in the Botlek, until the American competitor of Shell suddenly chose for a location in the port of Antwerp. This allowed Shell to consider even bigger expansions.47 The employees of these industrial sites required nearby housing to reduce the long commuting times and with it ‘create the conditions for a viable industrial development’48. The new satellite city was designed by H.C. Milius and Lotte Stam-Beese. Lotte StamBeese was educated at the Bauhaus academy of Walter Gropius and had closely witnessed the erection of modernist neighborhoods in Soviet Russia, and both shared the intellectual legacy of the modernist garden city and that of the wijkgedachte, which the designers implemented in het design for Hoogvliet. The design of Hoogvliet was akin to that of the expansion boroughs conjoined with the 44. Expansion boroughs (uitbreidingswijken) were generally defined as those located within the Ruit van Rotterdam, the Rotterdam highway ring, as opposed to the satellite cities which were located outside of the Ruit. 45. Rotterdam bouwt aan z’n toekomst. Het Vrije Volk : democratisch-socialistisch dagblad, 14-05-1947 46. Rotterdam gaat jaren van bouwbedrijvigheid tegemoet. Het Vrije Volk : democratisch-socialistisch dagblad, 21-06-1949 47. Bataafse gaat in Pernis met de helft uitbreiden. Het Vrije Volk : democratisch-socialistisch dagblad, 22-071952. 48. Stedebouw in Rotterdam: Plannen en opstellen 1940 - 1981. U. Barbieri et al. Dienst Stadsontwikkeling Rotterdam i.s.m. Van Gennep (Amsterdam, 1981).


Shell Pernis and Hoogvliet (in red) in 1958.


Northernmost part of Hoogvliet, also known as ‘oliebuurt’.


body of Rotterdam, in the sense that Hoogvliet was planned to have its own center following the principles of the wijkgedachte. It differed from those as, more than the expansion boroughs, Hoogvliet was required to function autonomously. While the expansion boroughs conjoined with Rotterdam were considered part of a city-wide hierarchical sequence culminating in the new center defined in Van Traa’s Basisplan, Hoogvliet and the other satellite cities were considered independent and disassociated from the urban organism.49 Because of this, Hoogvliet was planned to have a disproportionally large urban center and, much like an independent city, the neighborhoods were laid out radially around this center. The neighborhoods were separated by green zones in which the most important infrastructure was inserted, and the entire satellite city was surrounded by a wide parklike strip. This resulted in an introverted city plan engaging little with the water of the Oude Maas and the nearby town of Spijkenisse. In 2005, Wouter Vanstiphout and Michelle Provoost argued that Hoogvliet should be understood as a promille of one globally constructed new town, the result of a new reality, accepted worldwide, a hermetic concept of light, air and space. Accordingly, Hoogvliet is not only existent in Rotterdam, but also in Israel, Baghdad and Pyongyang. The Hoogvliet in Rotterdam is in this sense a part of a global collection of contemporary counterparts. This underlines the ideal, transcending city and country, that was the fundament of Hoogvliet and with it the apparent indifference and autonomy that the satellite city exercises in relation to the landscape to which it has been applied. 50 The designation as autonomous urban body, the radial layout around a new center, the peripheral delimitation by means of a wide green strip, the transnational ideology invested in its conception, and in the end even the relatively large distance to the industrial port (in comparison to pre-war neighborhoods), were all factors that contributed to a complete spatial disconnection between port and urban fabric. The green strip that lined Hoogvliet functioned well as a buffer zone between city and industry, as its recreational function both tolerated the proximity of potentially toxic port activity, and provided an added value to the residential neighborhoods adjacent to it. Simultaneously, it served as a spacer between the two, creating distance between port and city. The later spaghettification of the Botlekweg, running east-west between the port and Hoogvliet, only solidified this spatial disconnection as it gradually turned into a major thoroughfare, constituting a new transregional highway landscape wedged in between city and port. The green buffer zone was later extended westwards with the expansion of Spijkenisse to a city of 70.000 inhabitants, and eventually lined the entire south rim of the grand industrial strait predicted by Mayor Oud in 1951.51 In 1955 the plan for new town Hoogvliet was approved, planned to have between 50.000 and 60.000 residents. In comparison, Rotterdam had 575.000 inhabitants and such a satel49. Ibid. Note 48, pp149-159. Stadsuitbreidingen in Rotterdam. Brandes, Bijhouwer, Devolder & Gall. 50. Tegenlicht VPRO: Het Nieuwe Bouwen, 5 Mei 2005 51. See note 35. The function and dynamic of this recreational zone lining the Port of Rotterdam was later investigated by the succeeding generation of the Intermediate Size graduation studio.


Oliewijk Hoogvliet. Close proximity between residential neighborhoods and petrochemical industry

lite city could be compared to the size of entire ‘s-Hertogenbosch at the time.52 Being the neighbor of the biggest oil refinery in the world had significant impact on the new city’s urban planning, architecture and population. Shell as the biggest employer of the region drew migrants from all over the country causing Hoogvliet to acquire from the start a diverse population, consisting of families from so-called surplus areas in Drenthe and Groningen as well as industrial laborers from Rotterdam and other cities.53 The large proportion of shell employees among the population of Hoogvliet led the new city to acquire the nickname Oliewijk (oil neighborhood). Round-the-clock labor in the refinery and tank park was taken into account in the architecture of the neighborhood, as in the maisonette blocks people would be living together working both day and night shifts. For example, a solution to noise disturbance was found by changing the standard vertical organization of housing blocks, leading to a different vertical sequence (living room – bedroom – bedroom – living room, instead of living room – bedroom – living room – bedroom). 52. ‘s-Hertogenbosch had 57.297 inhabitants on January 1, 1950. Bevolking der Gemeenten van Nederland op 1 januari 1950, p28. Centraal Bureau voor Statistiek. Uitgeversmaatschappij W. de Haan NV (Utrecht, 1950). 53. Er verrijst een echte satellietstad twaalf kilometer van Rotterdam. Leeuwarder Courant, 10 March 1956. A surplus area (overschot gebied) referred to agricultural areas with little industrial activity and therefore a high unemployment rate.


From the conception of Hoogvliet to its final stage of construction in 1960, newspapers reported about residents in Hoogvliet living like pioneers, with a complete lack of amenities such as shops, community centers and infrastructure to Rotterdam. The articles were often accompanied by photos from a frog’s perspective showing agriculture in front of four-story apartment blocks with the imposing refinery installations in the background, creating an atmosphere in which three worlds collide: the rural, the industrial and the urban.54 One of these was destined to be vanquished; all agricultural activity was to be replaced by the new residential neighborhoods, quickly spreading around the polder landscape. Shell, the employer of most of the residents of Hoogvliet, actively engaged with the satellite city to create new facilities and enhance the well-being of the Hoogvliet youths. This was mainly organized by Shell’s recreational foundation, the Rotterdamse Ontspanningsvereninging Sport Harmonie en Levenslust (ROVSHELL or simply ROVS). With the fiftieth birthday of the company, the ROVS teamed together with the municipality to create a community center in Hoogvliet, which opened in November 1955. Designed by the company’s chief architect Kees Abspoel, it could house more than 400 people.55 The ROVS also initiated a youth center under the name Jeugdland, and organized youth festivities for the more than ten thousand members of the Shell Junior Club56. By 1963, the ROVS had more than 16.000 members57 and contained a choir, a wind orchestra, an amateur football club (The Shell Boys) with its own sports park in Vlaardingen, a table tennis association and many other recreative facilities.

EPILOGUE By the 1960s Shell had taken on more than merely the production and selling of oil and gasoline products, it had encompassed the entire car-driving experience, offering services to all car-related activity. In addition to 3000 gas stations in the Netherlands and 38400 gas stations in Europe, Shell developed numerous sub-branches such as Shell Supermotorolie, Shellina (fuel specifically for scooters and mopeds), Shell U.B.C. (Shell Under Body Coating, for protection of the bottom of the car), Shell Dieseloline, Shell Antivries, Shell Touring Service (guidance for driving abroad), Shell Specialiteiten (tools and manuals for car maintenance)58, Shell Ensis (rust remover for chrome parts), while using terms such as trusted, safe, expertly in advertisements to establish a bond with its consumer base. From the early 1950s, Shell started the development of travelling guides that included road maps to tourist destinations such as Italy, Greece and France, together with Baedeker. It started the production of road maps, atlases, street guides, all specifically aimed at tourist purposes. Shell 54. Leven en wonen in “Toekomststad” : Pioniersgeest in Hoogvliet is niet vereist, maar (nog) wel gewenst. Het Vrije Volk : democratisch-socialistisch dagblad, 24-09-1959. 55. Shell en gemeente zetten fraai gebouw neer. Het Vrije Volk : democratisch-socialistisch dagblad, 16-11-1955. 56. Vakantiefeest. Het Vrije Volk : democratisch-socialistisch dagblad, 08-08-1958 57. Sportpark “Vijfsluizen” 10 jaar. Het Nieuwe Dagblad, 22-08-1963. 58. Shell advertisement, De Volkskrant 25-09-1965


even developed vinyl records for road trips called Shell Hits & Tips for the first 2500km.59 Between 1960 and 1965, the tankers that Shell used had already tripled in size from 33.000 tons to 110.000 tons (a 3600% increase compared to the 3000 ton ships that APC bought in 1891). In 1968 the size of supertankers again dramatically increased due to the unreliability of the Suez Canal. During the second half of the reconstruction period of the Netherlands (1956-1968), Europe’s oil consumption had tripled, but military conflicts in the Middle East jeopardized the reliability of the Suez Canal. This led to oil companies Texaco, Shell, Mobil and Gulf Oil to commission some 49 supertankers to ship oil around the southern tip of the African continent rather than through the Suez Canal. The longer distance mandated an increase of scale and the supertankers would carry loads of 190,000 to 312,000 tons, compared to a supertanker’s conventional size of about 40,000 tons ten years earlier. This eventually led to the construction of the Maasvlakte Olie Terminal (MOT) on the new Maasvlakte I (1964-1973), a massive docking station from which imported petroleum products are pumped throughout the refineries and other petrochemical complexes in the Port of Rotterdam by means of a network of pipelines stretching over 25 kilometers. The MOT is a joint venture by the six largest oil companies located in the Port of Rotterdam. The growth of the Royal Dutch Shell during this era propelled a second phase in Shell’s architectural colonization of the West. Numerous towers were constructed in major western urban centers. Examples are Howard Robertson’s Shell Centre (1962) in London, SOM’s One Shell Square (1972) in New Orleans, the Shell Centre in Calgary (1977). Shell commissioned the architect Bruce Graham and structural engineer Fazlur Khan to design Shell Plaza (1972), an ensemble of modernist skyscrapers in the United States oil capital Houston during the peak of the city’s expansion. In the Netherlands Shell commissioned Arthur Staal’s Toren Overhoeks (1966) in Amsterdam, and Kees Abspoel’s Shellgebouw I (1960) and Piet Zanstra’s Hofpoort (1976) in Rotterdam. With growing awareness of the environmental damage that petrochemical industry caused, for example by the publication The Limits to Growth by the Club of Rome in 1972, the symbolism of petrochemical industry as technological and cultural innovator eventually eroded. Another dilemma arose in the national approach to petrochemical complexes, between the industry as a direct threat to air quality, citizens’ health and the environment in general, and its growing necessity to sustain the way of life that arose with the consumption of petroleum products. As such the petrochemical industry became increasingly regarded as a necessary evil, something that must be allowed for a greater good (to sustain a prevailing way of life). The acceptance that society explicitly needs the oil trade on its land solidified the government’s subservient position, left to the whims of international oil companies and oil producers abroad.

59. “Single Hits und Tips für die ersten 2500 km Shell Werbe”. Retrieved from https://oldthing.at/Single-Hitsund-Tips-fuer-die-ersten-2500-km-Shell-Werbe-0034811959 (2 May 2019)


CONCLUSION This text tells the story of how the industrial complex at Shell Pernis was at first an industry exiled from the machine-age port-city complex, but ultimately proved to be a prelude to the 34 kilometer long industrial strait that we know today as the Port of Rotterdam. Influenced by the governmental reconstruction agenda, the specialization of the port shifted to specifically the petrochemical industry after the war. The considerations involved with relocating the petrochemical industry outside of the port-city complex and the spatial characteristics of the resulting complex have become the postwar guidelines for the continued downstream extension of the port complex. It would be a fallacy (post hoc ergo propter hoc) to conclude that the postwar spatial development of the port was the consequence of the establishment of Shell Pernis. Still, It shows that the development of Rotterdam as a world-scale petroleum port was not just an achievement of the social reconstruction era, but in fact a continuation of capitalist opportunism firmly rooted in the Interbellum. With Shell Pernis, the spatial foundation was laid for the postwar dismantling of the industrial port-city complex. Moreover, the spatial conditions for such industrial sites to exist, in addition to a turn against the metropolitan ideals of the Interbellum, led to a new kind of urbanism that (much like the new spatial conditions of the port) depended not so much on an assimilated city, but more on a dispersed one. As such, it is possible to conclude that the combination of Shell Pernis and satellite city Hoogvliet indicates the instance in which the port-city complex paradigm is reciprocally abandoned for the first time. The relationship between the development of the Shell complex at Pernis and the demise of Witteveen’s Algemeen Uitbreidingsplan Rotterdam reveals interesting connotations of the site. The large influence Shell and other petroleum companies have had on the spatial development of the city, but also the dilemmas with which the municipality regards and has regarded such industrial areas, eventually leading to the abandoning of long term goals and visions in favor of securing short term financial interests. Moreover, the chronology of the petrochemical industry’s development in Rotterdam reveals the ever changing symbolism of the petroleum companies and their physical manifestation in the form of a refinery: from capitalist stronghold for a trade competition war, to driver for technological innovation in the early twentieth century, to international power that corrupts governments (criticized as such by e.g. Louis Fischer), to showpiece of postwar reconstruction and the accompanied prosperity for everyone, to heavy polluter that enables our way of life. Reflecting on this text after having numerous conversations on the topic, I personally hope this text will help to reveal that petroleum or oil can act as a visor with which we can understand the space we inhabit. It has been my understanding that the public at large has a general understanding of how oil has dominated geopolitical discourse and the excessive way it is embedded in our daily lives, but remains quite oblivious to the large spatial claim that is staked by its production, transportation and storage, let alone the effect it has had on the way we layout our cities.


port activity in Rotterdam (1954) by Cas Oorthuys.

Empty waters of the Meuse (source: www.rotterdam.info)


FURTHER THOUGHTS Hoogvliet dilapidated relatively quickly after its initial construction because of the many disasters that occurred with Shell, the most daunting of which was the Plof van Pernis of 1968. Residents often complained that they were unable to hang their clothing to dry outside and sometimes smelly clouds would appear that covered the entire neighborhood. During the 1980s, the borough was only in the news when another murder had been committed.1 In 1989 the oldest part of the satellite city, the part nearest to the refinery, was demolished, barely 35 years after its construction.2 Interestingly, the continued spatial disjointment between Shell Pernis and Hoogvliet was also an ongoing process. In the original plans, a traffic artery would extend from the refineries straight into the residential neighborhoods, so Shell employees could cycle back and forth between work and home. This tie was finally cut in may 2003 by the introduction of two flyovers made necessary by the new Betuwe-lijn, which could not operate with level crossings. As a result employees now need to take a 1,5 kilometer bypass rather than the former directly connected bridge. Urbanistically speaking, the alignment between the northern and southern halves of the traffic artery is now obsolete and even unnoticeable another break in spatial logic. In 2005 a design was made that was meant to reconnect the satellite city with Shell, by means of an education center that would train youths from Hoogvliet for a future as technician in petrochemistry. The architects could only envision one site on which this could be built: on the interface between Hoogvliet and Shell, in the green buffer zone at the northern entrance of the borough. The Plant of the Future was developed by NL Architects together with Wimby by Crimson Architectural historians. The design placed the dangerous petrochemical installations inside huge cylindrical bombshelters (reminding of the white cylinders of the tankpark) that simultaneously carry a roadside restaurant, a conference center and the school, topped with a public park, bringing the industrial world together with the green space ideology of Hoogvliet. The elevated roadside restaurant exploits its proximity to the highway. It aimed to make the petrochemical plant play a more important role in the city.3 One compelling sight that was repeatedly discovered during the research was the recreational activity dotted around the port landscape. This not only takes place in the recreational green strip that extends from Pernis to the west, but also on other, more marginal, green spaces and waterfront areas that sometimes lie incredibly close to the heavy port industry. This sight was already documented by photographers Roel Visser and Jannes Linders in the late 1980s and early 1990s. As of today, even the extremely remote Tweede Maasvlakte has become a recreational destination, complete with a snack-bar, bicyclists and the occasional sun-bathers. . . . 1.  Ibid. Note 50 2.  “Hoogvliet ziet niets in sloop van de Oliebuurt” Het Vrije Volk : democratisch-socialistisch dagblad, 24-01-1986 3.  NL Architects, Plant of the Future, 2002


Plant of the Future (2005) by NL Architects.


Workers cycle from Shell Pernis to their homes in Hoogvliet (1965)


Further disjointment between Shell and Hoogvliet. Left: old situation with direct traffic connection (as of 22 May 2003). Right: new situation with a whopping 1,5 kilometer bypass (as of 27 May 2003).


De Madroelhaven. Photo by Jannes Linders (1989), part of Landschap in Nederland, retrieved from collection Rijksmuseum

Recreation activity in the Europoort. Photo by Roel Visser, published in De jaren negentig (1992)


Sunbathing on the Maasvlakte. Photo by the author (2018)

Snack-bar De Smickel Inn, an urban transplantation in the port. Photo by the author (2018)



CHARACTERIZATION It is important to understand of a refinery that it is a completely automated, chemical process. It does not need an enclosed space to be housed in. People are only involved in the maintenance of the installation. Its dynamic consists of moving materials, in the form of fluids and gases, around from storage, through a series of specialized installations, to another storage. During the entire process, the fluids and gases are contained in pipelines, ranging from small to extremely large. In the specialized installations, the materials are mixed, separated, heated, cooled, transitioned between phases and extensively and specifically labelled with titles that seem alien to anyone not engaged with chemistry. Therefore this is a highly abstract process. Because of the abstract nature of this process that deals with material flows, excess flows, waste flows and product flows, the space it produces can best be described as a physical manifestation of an annotated flowchart. The scale of the refinery, especially the Shell refinery, and the amount of money that is involved with these processes, demands optimization of this process in terms of speed, efficiency, spatial occupation and manpower involvement. As a result, and without the interference of any architect or aesthetics committee, this industrial activity produces an uncompromising and persistent technological landscape. This landscape makes extensive use of cylinders. Its architecture is relentlessly autistic, in the sense that it is unusually centered on itself while limiting the development of communication skills.


58 Fina refinery, Port of Antwerp

59 Shell Moerdijk

60 Oil terminal Knokke-Heist

61 MiRO refinery, Karlsruhe

62 Shell refinery, Kรถln-Godorf

63 Shell Pernis, Rotterdam

Interpretation of the industrial space involved a visit to the site, or at least its direct vicinity, to understand its dynamic and logic, and to find the esthetic and spatial qualities that can serve as a base for an architectural and urbanistic intervention. As the Shell refinery is evidently closed to the public, further investigation into the spatial features of petrochemical industry relied heavily on the databases of the Nederlands Fotomuseum, especially the photos of Cas Oorthuys commissioned by Shell between 1950 and 1959, as well as aerial photography of Bing maps.

“We are confronted with a scene of wiring and technology and it is impossible to understand their purpose. They are awe-inspiring, fascinating and we cannot pin them down. In other words, they look like art.” – Kunstuur 2018/12/16, on industrial photography by Thomas Struth

“In the 1980s I flew my little airplane to the Maasvlakte, unimaginably beautiful that bare plain. I have a fascination of industrial landscapes. What the hell should you do there about visual quality, as architect you should not interfere with it. Rationality and pragmatism, that is what its all about over there. About safeguarding the non-quality, the thoughtless quality.” - Jan Benthem in De haven van Rotterdam, wereld tussen stad en zee

The previous pages contain six aerial views of various large scale petrochemical complexes situated in North-West Europe. Juxtaposing these in pairs side by side it becomes unclear where one photo ends and the other begins, to such extent that it even becomes uncertain if it is not just one complex at all. The orthogonality and continuous arrays of pipelines and cylinders seem to overflow between each pair of aerial shots. Also the scale of the complex becomes ambiguous, it is unclear whether the photos are showing areas of similar size or not, and with it the size of the objects becomes blurred. With no frame of reference or sense of scale, the photos become abstract compositions of lines and circles, compacting and diluting randomly, sometimes ejecting plumes of white smoke or casting diagonal shadows across the grid. It shows on one hand the specific characteristics of the space that petrochemical industry has been producing for over one hundred years, but on the other hand the genericness of that same space, which is the same all over Europe and all over the world.


The petrochemical industry is essentially manifest in the form of a landscape. This is not only because of the sheer scale of its domain which constitutes a complete and seemingly endless environment, but also because of the continuity of its space-structuring elements such as pipelines and the orthogonal grid. The space that petrochemical industry produces had already been recognized as a landscape as early as 1959, when the newly extended refinery complexes at Pernis drew the attention of architecture and landscape photographers such as Frits Rotgans, who called the refinery an “ industrial landscape of piping and chimneys”1. More recently, the areas in use by petrochemical companies was specified by Carola Hein as one of several petroleumscapes, landscapes specifically produced as a result of the consumption and production of oil products2. As the petrochemical industry has been allowed to develop and accommodate its industrial space in complete freedom and autonomy, only limited by ever increasing safety standards, the space is also a continually evolving landscape. As such, and much like a city, the refinery has its own pace of metabolism, scrapping and replacing parts of its body within a more or less fixed structure. Installations and fuel tanks are taken out of service when they become obsolete or when disaster strikes, and are soon dismantled. Parts of the installations can be of use in the construction of new installations and factories. The resulting patches of empty industrial terrain are sometimes left bare for several years before being taken back into service with the construction of a new installation or tank park. With it, the surrounding network of elevated pipelines evolves, spawning new and killing off obsolete stretches of piping. Categorically the petrochemical landscape consists of two landscapes, both organized strictly orthogonal, the tank park filled with stocky cylinders, and the refinery consisting mostly of stretchy cylinders. LANDSCAPE OF FAT CYLINDERS The tank park: a landscape of enormous white cylinders. All elements considered this is essentially a high-tech and extreme evolution of its primordial function -a storage facilityand therefore also rather static: liquids are pumped throughout the landscape via a network of underground and aboveground piping, involving little human activity. The cylinders are fuel tanks, an integration of form, construction and function: liquids exercise equal force in all directions when poured inside a pure cylinder, which can be constructed from modular panels of sheet metal. Their exteriors are painted bright white to reflect sunlight and thereby minimize any temperature increase. Their roofs float on top of their ever-changing contents, resulting in a monumental but excruciatingly slow dance only on view for birds. 1. Industrieel buizen-en schoorstenenlandschap, (1959). photo by Frits Rotgans, Nederlands Fotomuseum, inventory number FJR / 1241 / 3. 2. The term petroleumscape is also used in a more general sense, the built environment as shaped by the extraction, refining, transformation and consumption of petroleum in visible and invisible ways. “The Global Petroleumscape”, exhibition at the Delft Faculty of Architecture. 18 May 2017 – 2 June 2017. https://www. tudelft.nl/en/events/2017/bk/exhibition-the-global-petroleumscape/


The title ‘tank park’ cleverly describes its content: it is in fact merely a collection of oversized tanks organized in an open field that is even surprisingly green, filled with grass-covered barriers surrounding flood basins reducing its disastrous potency. As such, much like a park, the organization of this landscape is not so much about the volumes placed in it, but more about the vast open space in between them. Conversely, the term ‘tank park’ can almost only be understood ironically, as it is simultaneously the opposite of a conventional park: a pleasant and publicly accessible domain of nature and clean air. These cylinders being the international superlative degree to the American grain silos studied by early modernists such as Le Corbusier, Adolf Loos and Erich Mendelsohn, and organized as free-standing objects in a vast open park-like space streaked with infrastructural veins, perhaps the modern tank park can be considered the epitome of Modernist architectural and urban ideals.3

Installation in the Shell refinery photographed by Cas Oorthuys between 1950 and 1959. Courtesy of Nederlands Fotomuseum - inventory number CAS / 21800 / 1 3. Reversing the metaphor, extrapolating the ideas of modernists ultimately leads to the basic philosophy of a tank park. For example, what is Le Corbusier’s Plan Voisin other than a place for the storage of people in abstract white blocks, repeated in a two-dimensional grid, surrounded by undefined green space and infrastructural lines of infinite length? Inevitably this begs the question if Le Corbusier and like-minded architects merely considered large collections of people the same way the engineers of Shell considered large collections of fuel: as a big fire hazard?


LANDSCAPE OF THIN CYLINDERS This refinery landscape is comprised of endless piping, waywardly bent, curved up at points where it collides with a chimney of seemingly arbitrary height. At random points in these endless stretches, the piping is bent upwards for a meter or two before being bent back into its previous trajectory, most probably to mitigate thermal expansion. A collision between the piping and a chimney suggests the location of a chemical installation. These installations may look at first like an excess growth of piping of varying radii and in divergent colour schemes, into something that resembles a steel and aluminium cancer trying to reach upward and detach itself from the landscape of piping it inhabits. Upon closer examination it is possible to distinguish the pipes from the steel framework that simultaneously supports and contains the growth, and recognize distillation towers and tall cylinders. In contrast to the tank park, the refinery is a more dynamic landscape, more subject to technological advancements and as such in constant development. As already concluded by Peter de Winter, the date of construction of the installations within Shell’s refinery area is a rather tricky practice if not impossible.4 It includes brand-new installations as well as older parts that are still in use after adaptations, and in addition to an altered function the installations often received a completely new appearance. Most of these buildings and installations are inventions of Shell itself. In addition to more dynamic the refinery is also more dense. Due to space restrictions, but more importantly because of the nature of the production activity which relies heavily on chemical processes such as distillation and chromatography, the installations are often more than thirty meters tall. Also the proliferation of pipelines elevated onto steel lattices produces an immense spatial cluttering.

Proliferation of pipelines in the Shell refinery of Pernis (aerial view of Google Earth) 4. Havenarchitectuur : een inventarisatie van industriĂŤle gebouwen in het Rotterdamse havengebied, Peter de Winter. Rotterdamse Kunststichting Uitgeverij (Rotterdam, 1982).



Partial plan of the Shell tank park (scale 1:1000)



Tank park: a landscape of stocky cylinders.




Programmatic representation of the Shell refinery showing its density (scale 1:3333)



Fuel tank



Refinery: a landscape of stretchy cylinders.



Various types of cylinders found in the petrochemical landscape.

Orthogonal elements in the petrochemical landscape: lattices, steel structures, the occasional Bauhausian warehouse.






Pace of the metabolism of petrochemical industry: refinery replaced by a new tank park over fifteen years.



2018 Pace of the metabolism of petrochemical industry: fuel tanks are replaced by new refinery installations and the pipeline network is adjusted accordingly over thirteen years. (note that the tank of the bottom-left quadrant has been moved to a new location)


ILLEGIBILITY This street-scape is well-maintained, there is lots of grass and it is always mowed. So this seems to be a street profile that aims to be a better, greener place than the surrounding refineries. Yet, the reason for the grass and also the reason it is well-maintained is that it is also an infrastructural space, it being underground piping for toxic chemicals such as chlorine. Thus, the green space in the refinery port only seems to be an embellishment of the public space in one of the most industrial zones in the country, but really it is an indication of underground infrastructure. This is emphasized in the public space, and especially in areas where the presence of a pipeline corridor is not so obvious, by yellow warning signs and concrete tiles with the text “CHLOOR LEIDING – NIET GRAVEN”. This is necessary because the organization of this landscape is not completely legible to casual observers. In addition to the signs and tiles, the underground infrastructure manifests itself aboveground through a variety of yellow beacons supplied by the Dutch Gasunie. In fact, the underground piping network extends from the Petroleumhavens far South into the Dutch rural areas, heavily limiting much of what can be done aboveground by means of risk contours. Thus, the illegibility is not contained to the refinery and leaks beyond its perimeter. The activity of Shell, centralized inside a specific part of the port of Rotterdam, imposes an illegible layer of spatial production and limitations onto the Dutch landscape.

SKYLINE Rotterdam is known as a city with an eye-catching skyline consisting of various landmark high-rises dotted around the city center, including the five tallest buildings in the Netherlands. Interestingly, the Port of Rotterdam has three much taller structures, after the Gerbrandy Tower of IJsselstein even the tallest constructions of the country. These are generally unknown and located on isolated industrial terrains. With 207 meters the KPN Communication Tower at Waalhaven-Zuid is the fourth tallest structure in the country, constructed in 1962 when the area was converted from its former occupation as airfield to its current industrial function. At Pernis the refinery and tank park of Shell are each marked by a white 213 meter tall chimney, holding second and third place in ranking. Again, generally unknown, these two chimneys were constructed respectively in 1968 and 1974, the first one replacing about twenty smaller chimneys. The occasion motivation for constructing this chimney was the disastrous Plof van Pernis of 20 January 1968, arguably the largest calamity of Rotterdam since the 1940 bombing of its city center. Shell Pernis before 1968 could be characterized as, in addition to a landscape of cylinders, a landscape of chimneys, which were visible from the far outskirts of the city. These chimneys were documented by various photographers, as their impressive scale and number produced images that could easily be mistaken for Italy’s Bologna of Medieval times5. Aart Klein captured a 1961 scene at night time, taking advantage of the fluorescent lights’ glow 5. Specifically Angelo Finelli’s 1926 representation of the Bologna family towers.


Shell refineries in a summer night of 1961, as photographed by Aart Klein (Nederlands Fotomuseum - inventory number AKL / 610802 / 1)

on the chimneys’ smoke plumes. Currently the refinery port is still well-known for it’s nighttime glow due to round-the-clock operation, produced by thousands of fluorescent lights that illuminate the petrochemical installations. The skyline of chimneys has been replaced by a skyline of latticework installations complemented by two tall white chimneys and three torch towers.

. . .


Skyline of chimneys at Shell Pernis, photographed by Cas Oorthuys (date unknown, probably before 1968) (Nederlands Fotomuseum - inventory number FJR / 1241 / 3 )

“Industrieel buizen-en schoorstenenlandschap� (1959) photographed by Frits Rotgans (Nederlands Fotomuseum - inventory number FJR / 1241 / 3 )


Left: Concrete tiles indicate the location of an underground chlorine pipeline. Right: “Dangerous pipelines : access prohibited�



Risk contours indicating underground pipelines in and around the Port of Rotterdam, the Eerste and Tweede Petroleumhavens, and the south east corner of the refinery area (top to bottom). Images retrieved from www.risicokaart.nl.

Impact of underground pipelines on aboveground programming and landscape, in agricultural, urbanized and industrial areas (top to bottom).













In order to battle the monopoly that port industry and in particular the petrochemical industry holds on the Meuse waterfront, the project intends to break the monofunctionality of such industrial zones by inserting a public domain, thereby establishing on a location a new collision between port, city and water. The result of this new public domain is a close encounter between industry, culture and the public at large, at the historical and industrial epicenter of the Shell refineries at Pernis. In the shape of an ever-extendible elevated network of walkways that conduct interested pedestrians through the industry, it brings to mind New Babylon of Constant Nieuwenhuis (1920 – 2005): a new living environment for homo ludens, lifted above the working domain of homo faber. It is titled: New Petrylon.




STRATEGY New Petrylon is a strategic approach for integrating petrochemical landscapes into their urban environments by making them accessible to a broad public. The approach caters to four goals, based on the preliminary research of the previous chapters: •

Allow for a direct confrontation between the polluting industry and the general public by making the monofunctional zone accessible and introducing a public domain.

Unlock the sublime, picturesque and scenographic qualities that are present in the inaccessible industrial zone by inserting architectural objects that establish visual connections and vantage points that relate to their context.

Make the industrial activity of Shell Pernis more legible to the general public by introducing an informative program and allow for space for exhibitions and gatherings.

Allow for the insertion of additional program to transform the area into an active part of the city.

Ultimately the strategy should lead to a world accessible to the public at large, existing in the same space as but parallel to the petrochemical industry, without interfering directly in its activity and dynamics, rather depending on it. This world is programmed with cultural, recreational and educational functions that attract an audience and create a conscience with the public about the excesses our oil-based way of life has produced in the past and discussions on sustainability issues. This world is characterized by its ability to create and mark places in the industrial landscape, despite the obvious health risks and issues, to make a place-to-stay out of this place-to-stay-away-from. It can be extended indefinitely, depending on its success, and build up a density of urban functions inside a location that would ordinarily not allow for it.

NETWORK OF ENCOUNTERS The new public domain makes use of an existing distribution network, namely the elevated pipelines that criss-cross through the refinery and tank park. The industrial function of these pipelines is broadened with a public one as they are topped with wide pedestrian promenades. Elevated walkways do not interfere with the industrial activity going on and it also provides the opportunity of expansion across other sections of the elevated pipeline network. As such a public domain is established in the monofunctional zone consisting of a network of elevated promenades. The promenades, especially in the refinery, closely pass by the industrial installations that are often over thirty meters tall and produce all sorts of noises and smells. Underneath the bustling refinery activity is taking place, trucks are driving and helmeted Shell employees are moving around the area. The contrast between


the purely industrial ground floor and the recreational, educational and cultural network of walkways is similar to that of a zoo, but in this case people from the city go on a safari around the petrochemical port industry.

THEATRICAL GATEWAYS The network is accessed through gates in places where it touches the existing public realm, such as a street or the waterfront. These gateways are buildings that take advantage of the upward movement of people from one public realm into another. It also provides the opportunity to close the entire network if needed, for example in case of another Plof van Pernis. The shape of these gates or ascension machines remind of entrances and entryways in the urban environment, such as a terrace or a red carpet, and as such acquire a rather

where the network meets the existing public domain of roads or water an entrance can be conceived that in its architecture takes advantage of the upwards movement of people. These entry gates can also contain public functions such as a theater or opera hall against a backdrop of heavy industry, creating a cultural bubble on the edge of the monofunctional zone.



Potential of appropriating elevated pipelines in the Shell Pernis refinery ...

... and in the tank park.


exhibitionist nature: visitors accessing network are watched by others as they theatrically climb up a monumental staircase or approach the refinery on a severely stretched catwalk. This flips the former eerie and hostile feeling of walking in the public space surrounding the refinery and turns it into a theatrical display. Entering New Petrylon is something one wants to dress up for, they know they are being watched. Similarly, the industrial zone acquires a layer of exhibitionism antagonizing its status as a blind spot, as flaneurs on the network present themselves as an esthetical contrast to the thoughtlessly produced industrial world.

PROGRAMMATIC DEVELOPMENT The public realm on the elevated pipelines is continued inside the gateway buildings, as these are programmed with public functions such as a concert hall, a petroleum museum, a nightclub. The program at the gateways is the aspect that establishes a first interest with the public at large in this isolated industrial zone. As their functions appeal to the public’s imagination, for example the alienating experience of attending a Bach concert under the smoke and in the smell of a refinery, this is where the first encounter between industry, culture and public at large takes place. Indeed in a relatively isolated space, an enclave of urbanity on the brim of a giant monofunctional industrial zone, but nevertheless in each other’s direct vicinity and fully engulfed in the sublime spatial experience that is the petro-

Ponton leaving the city center in fvor of an alienating port landscape (summer of 1980)


chemical landscape. Such can be considered a permanent and more elaborate version of the cultural manifestation Ponton 010, a floating stage for 1500 visitors to attend classical music concerts against a sublime background of port industry.

FUNCTIONAL PROMENADES The promenades of New Petrylon are made of prefabricated segments, simply mounted on top of the lattice works containing the elevated pipelines. This prefabricated method allows for easy adaptations such as densifying its functionality. Producing segments varying in size and possibly including planters and small stages or seating arrangements can give the promenade a diverse function and look. It is imaginable to use the elevated pipeline network for other kinds of distribution as well, such as the implementation of a power network disconnected from that of the refinery or a sewage network facilitating the buildings attached to the network of promenades. Conceivably the promenades could even be converted into trottoirs roulant, similar to the system in use in Paris during its 1900 Exposition Universelle, using conveyor belts or sidewalk segments moving at different speeds. Ultimately a transportation system could be put to use underneath the promenade, consisting of single-person transport carts moving through a pipeline with a 2,5 meter diameter, with drop-off stations at points of interest or intersections of major promenade thoroughfares. Inevitably this kind of transportation system will become an attraction for the public in itself as it can compare, for example, to the exhilarating experience of Pierce Brosnan and Denise Richards speeding through an oil pipeline in a little cylindrical cart in James Bond’s The World is Not Enough (1999).

LANDSCAPE OF URBAN PROGRAM The bare patches of industrial space left vacant by the petrochemical industry’s rapid pace of metabolism can be appropriated and programmed with additional educational, recreational and cultural functions. Interventions (or rather architectural insertions) designed for these spaces are of a semi-permanent nature, much like the installations of the refinery itself, meaning that their permanence is depending on their merit. Based on its success these insertions can have a prolonged lifespan or be replaced to become part of the petrochemical industry once more. As such, a new (urban) layer is added to the petrochemical landscape in question, its metabolic undercurrents coupled to and even depending on the existing dynamics. The result is an ever-changing cultural, recreational and educational program evolving at the same speed as the technological landscape it inhabits, in perpetual competition to stay relevant and always open to experimentation.


Pierce Brosnan and Denise Richards in James Bond’s The World is Not Enough (1999)

ARCHITECTURAL INSERTIONS The architectural insertions can indicate locations, establish visual relationships to the industrial objects that surround them, and demarcate space as if they were part of an urban context. Indicators from afar and space-creators from near, their architecture serves to monumentalize locations in the industrial landscape.

EXPOSITION PÉTROCHIMIQUE Similarly, new industrial installations developed by Shell can acquire an architectural layer that communicates with the new audience and narrates the petrochemical landscape, essentially transforming the entire refinery into a giant industrial exhibition. As the refinery of Shell contains all layers of history of the petrochemical industry, the network can serve simultaneously as the world’s biggest petroleum museum.

. . . 106

buildings by means rossing the

stribution systems to omain. Breaking the ay allows for closer public at large and the without too much s in the public domain dustrial activity.

Open the monofunctional zone by creating entry points or vantage points that intersect with the existing public realm.

Connect the new entry buildings by means of a new public domain crossing the monofunctional zone.

Allow for ar attached to t

Their added program can provide a stage for cultural expressions such as exhibitions but also for sustainable innovations; as such it will become interesting for both Shell and a wider audience.

Use existing industrial distribution systems to establish a new public domain. Breaking the monofunctionality this way allows for closer interaction between the public at large and the petrochemical industry without too much interference. Annotations in the public domain could inform about the industrial activity.

The spaces l industry as a obsoletion or with more ur clubs, hotels more informa industrial inn sustainability

New buildings should constitute a place to stay in the currently industrial area.

Allow for architectural insertions to be attached to the new public domain.

Allow for expansion of the new public domain and program into an urban environment parallel to the industry.

The spaces left vacant by the petrochemical industry as a result of technical innovation, obsoletion or disaster can be programmed with more urban functions such as night clubs, hotels, Airbnbs, spas, but also with more informative functions that exhibit new industrial innovations in the light of sustainability.

Expanding the network indefinitely can soak up any excess space left over by the industry and thus herald a smooth transition into a more urban use of the monofunctional zone.

Potential phasing strategy for the implementation of New Petrylon



Elevated pipelines as found in the petrochemical landscape

Pipelines fitted with diverse promenade segments



Functionality broadened with pedestrian traffic, power lines and sewage pipes

A transportation system as portrayed in The World is Not Enough inserted between the promenade and the pipelines







4 PODIUM SEEDLING This chapter comprises the design of a gateway to New Petrylon. Its form developed from three architectural anchor points: 1) the building as an entry, a gate; 2) the building as a vantage point, a raised platform; 3) the building as an escalator, a machine that moves people from one level to another. In phasing the construction of this building comes before the implementation of the network of promenades, and from it the extended network can be developed. As such this building acts as a seedling for a broader future development. At the same time it embodies all urban, architectural and programmatic aspirations of New Petrylon.

LOCATION The location is an empty site at the terminus of a branch of the Eerste Petroleumhaven, the first port basin constructed for the refineries of Shell near Pernis. After a number of temporary uses from at least 2003, the site was finally cleared in late September of 2015. It is flanked on the North by the 800 meter long port basin, on the South by the epicenter of the Shell refineries including the 213 meter tall chimney at a distance of 300 meters, on the West by a small 1950s warehouse and the construction site of a new installation, and on the East by a 100 meter tall torch installation. In its direct vicinity lies a disused maritime pier piercing 50 meters into the port basin on the North, and a stretch of elevated pipelines 10,5 meter above ground level flanking an industrial street on the South. Its position as a direct link between the port basin and the network of elevated pipelines, as well as its close proximity to the heavy petrochemical industry of the refinery makes this a suitable place for the first of a series of seedling gateways to New Petrylon. PROGRAM The program of this building is the first close encounter between petrochemical industry, culture and the public at large. It should be able to host both recreative, cultural and educational expressions in the form of exhibitions, performances, theatrical displays, markets,


gatherings, lectures, debates etc. To be able to cater to this broad array of events, the building contains a number of flexible spaces, neutral in their programmatic shape, but more expressive in their architecture, orientation and embedding in their industrial context. VOLUME The volume of the building combines an exhibitionist raised platform with an attention-grabbing tower slab. The raised platform will from this point be referred to as podium, because of the specific use of this word in Dutch. Namely, in addition to the typical use of the word stage in English as a platform for performances, the Dutch word podium is also associated with a hierarchy between everything that happens on a stage versus the audience that surrounds it, as well as the more important spatial aspect of a podium essentially being a raised platform. In addition, the Dutch podium is also used figuratively to describe broad attention given to a certain topic or person (iets of iemand een podium geven), which also indicates the essence of this building: the goal to provide a stage for certain societal, environmental and sustainability issues. This podium is complemented by a tower on its northern side, screening off the view on the industrial installations for approaching visitors and acting as a billboard for the program it houses. As such, the resulting building volume somewhat approaches the ‘I am a Monument’ sketch made by Robert Venturi: a neutral shoebox with an attention-grabbing billboard. The volume is then punctured by a monumental staircase. This puncture is the most important architectural element of the building: it simultaneously connects an approaching walkway with the podium, it provides a theatrical display of visitors approaching and climbing the staircase, it creates a window on the water in the other direction, and it can be used as a seating arrangement for outdoor performances. In addition to this outdoor stage the building contains three important interior spaces. 1. THE EXHIBITION SPACE Inside the tower is located a 6,5 meter wide, 18 meter long and 12 meter tall space, lifted 17,5 meters above ground level, over the outdoor stage. This space acts as the billboard for this gateway, as its dominant shape can be seen from far away. It can be used to host exhibitions, display technological or industrial artefacts and to make large graphic statements. Forms of communication between Shell and the general public or media for critical voices, the exhibition space can provide insight in new industrial developments or critical reflections on the activities in the industrial zone, such as the petrochemical impact on urban environments. 2. THE LARGE ROOM A theater hall providing seats for an audience of 140. It is oriented towards the refinery and as such the backdrop to performances is an enormous window, revealing the industrial activity taking place. Visitors are sitting on ground level together with the employees of


Shell and passing trucks on the other side of the window. The view passes underneath a ten meter high elevated stretch of pipelines, piercing through the foundations of the refinery installations. Using large retractable screens, the large room can be turned into a fully functional theater hall by lowering an abstract black proscenium arch and black backdrop covering the window. Between these screens a dÊcor tower can be put to use for lifting and lowering stage pieces and attributes. 3. THE SMALL ROOM A multifunctional space of 300 square meters suitable for receptions, debates and other kinds of gatherings. Contrary to the large room, this space does not have a specific direction in which activity can take place. The space is two in three directions and on the outside direction it has a large window on the water. Opposite the window on the water the foyer is demarcated by a series of large doors; these can be used to close the room or to open it completely towards the rest of the building, creating a much larger continuous space. THE CENTRAL FOYER In-between the large and small rooms a central foyer is wedged. This foyer contains a long monumental staircase that takes visitors from the outdoor stage to ground level. This space establishes a continuous view from one side to the other side of the building, as it is bound by two large windows on the flanks of the volume. THE PODIUM On top of Venturi’s shoebox is a publicly accessible platform of 38 by 27 meters. Raised fourteen meters above ground level, the podium is firstly an advantage point that gives visitors their first close view of the refinery area. In its vastness and neutrality the podium can be assigned a number of uses, such as a market and outdoor performances, but also more impulsive urban uses, such sunbathing and barbecuing. A raised platform, the podium exhibits its users to the industrial context as if they were monkeys in a zoo, reversing the metaphor proposed in chapter three. PUBLIC DOMAIN The network of promenades is extended inside the building in the form of a public route. The outdoor stage is flanked by two entrances, one for the program inside and the other leading to the network in the refinery. The first entrance leads visitors onto a gallery raised seven meters above ground level, indicating that one has to move downstairs to enter the main spaces. In a central foyer the route continues to the ground floor via a monumental staircase, leading visitors the to the entrances of both the large and small rooms. To exit the building, one can continue on ground level through a side corridor to a paternoster which takes the visitor all the way to the top of the tower for a view over the Eerste Petroleumhaven, after which they can get off an the exhibition space, the podium or the entrance to the network of promenades.


oude maas


eerste petroleumhaven

ven mha



oleu petr


r 15 20 ion mete t r a be loc x 69 cto 7 O 5 in ed r a cle

truck (4m)

elements on location (scale 1:1000)

chimney (213m)


elevated pipelines industrial street

small warehouse from the 1950s ~115 meter pipelines overarching gateway on quay

pier extending into water

Section through location, existing situation (scale 1:1000)

network of walkways on the elevated pipelines

short bridge to network (P+10500)

building / ascension machine raised platform / podium attract attention / billboard establish visual relations / framing

elevated walkway (P+7000)

staircase and elevator leading to elevated walkway


Section through location, intended situation (scale 1:1000)

Large hall establishes a window on the refinery at ground level

Small hall establishes window on the water at ground level

Central foyer in between the two halls opens up to the sides of the building


Visual relationships between the building and its context

The open theater creates a framed view on the water

The tower attracts attention and creates a vantage point for all sides

The podium is a public outdoor environment inside the refinery area


Turning into the Tweede Petroleumhaven across from Vlaardingen

The podium appears in the distance with a background of the industry

Approaching on the elevated walkway, the building obscures the industrial backdrop

A theatrical staircase leads to a raised platform (podium) that reveals its industrial context


Developing a building shape through the approach from the water

Final building volume




sin ba rt po ry ne re fi

Direction of the building.

The two main spaces can be accessed from ground level.


Two elevated walkways inside the volume run the entire length of the building.

From this walkway a monumental staircase leads down to ground level. A paternoster elevator and a stairwell lead visitors into the exhibition tower.



Concept of compacting and diluting filigree structure

FILIGREE AND 3D GRID STRUCTURE Grafted on the modular structures that contain most of the refinery installations in its direct context, the building’s load-bearing structure as well as the basis for its spatial organization is designed as a 3D grid. This filigree structure is compacted near surfaces such as the façade and roofs, and dilutes around the main interior spaces. As a result, the interior spaces are not just surrounded and defined by the filigree structure, they actually become part of it. Corresponding to the pragmatic and additive build-up of structures in the refinery, this filigree structure is then translated into a sequence of steel trusses. This transformation additionally invites a reference to industrial halls. SLAB INFILLS AND MATERIALS Spaces inside the filigree structure are defined by vertical and horizontal slabs, inserted between load-bearing members and columns. Materials intentionally do not wrap around corners, to avoid the allusion that the slabs are describing volumes – the slabs are supposed to remain relatively free-standing elements. Similarly, the slabs surrounding the large room do not reach the ceiling. Instead, the top of the large room is surrounded by black curtains that can be opened at the end of a performance, revealing the position of the room in the filigree structure and the refinery area. FAÇADE The façade is completely constructed of glass and steel, using a gridiron structure derived from the building’s interior logic. The cells in the structure are filled in three different ways: a full glass pane, a window divided vertically, a pivoted window divided both vertically and horizontally. The full glass windows are used where the least view obstruction is required. The pivoted windows are moved to organized in rows along the roof and floor lines. Resulting is a glass and steel building that in its volume is abstract, but a closer look reveals the pragmatic way it is constructed. At night the building can light up entirely and become a visual beacon for the refinery, in the same manner that illuminated eye-catchers were constructed in Dutch cities during the interbellum1.

. . .

1. In Rotterdam most notably Doduk’s Bijenkorf on the Coolsingel. Lesser known but more important to the design decisions of this project is De Volharding of Jan Buijs in The Hague, quite literally a building-shaped advertising column.


Primary filigree structure

Secondary filigree structure

Floor plan of conceptual filigree structure

Large room Small room

Floor plan of the filigree structure, translated to a steel skeleton


The filigree translated to a sequence of steel trusses



nonload-bearing masonry slabs

hollow-core concrete slabs

anthracite tiling

diamond plate

Opaque aterials which create slabs inside the structure defining spaces


glass blocks in pre-cast concrete panels


panels of metal grating

prefab steel balustrades


swing doors

Transparent and flexible space dividers

The two central trusses filled with material, dividing the building into a large room, a central foyer, and a small room.



Location of the most important slabs in the first floor filigree

Size and materiality of the most important space dividers



Division of spaces within the full steel filigree

Full building design



Large room with curtains closed and open

Small room with doors closed and open


window on the refinery industry

Ground floor 1:200

retractable solid black backdrop



retractable proscenium arch

sound lock unisex restrooms

secondary entrance

Large Room 154 seats (11x14) 225 square meter

primary entrance

sound lock

sidestage and storage

restroom foyer beam 230x120mm


side foyer and lounge floor slightly inclined (~9%)

beam 230x120mm

glass blocks in concrete panels

glass blocks in concrete panels

glass blocks in concrete panels

glass blocks in concrete panels

view on the torching installation

central foyer

swinging doors

Small Room 300 square meter flexible accommodation

wardrobe and corridor

window on the water of the port basin

window on the refinery industry

masonry slab with sound absorbing foam

First floor (P+3500) 1:200

masonry slab with sound absorbing foam

retractable proscenium arch

masonry slab

masonry slab

masonry slab

masonry slab

masonry slab

masonry slab

masonry slab

masonry slab

masonry slab masonry slab

steel beam 230x120mm steel beam 230x120mm

steel beam 230x120mm steel beam 230x120mm

steel beam 230x120mm steel beam 230x120mm

glass blocks in concrete panels

glass blocks in concrete panels

glass blocks in concrete panels

glass blocks in concrete panels

pendelstaven ø 30mm

glass blocks in concrete panels

roof construction of steel trusses interconnected by pendelstaven, alluding to a coffered ceiling at P+5350

glass blocks in concrete panels

window on the water of the port basin

elevated walkway at P+7000

elevated walkway at P+7000

elevated walkway at P+7000

elevated walkway at P+7000

view on the torching installation

steel truss: horizontal tension bar 70x70mm, connected to beam by vertical pressure rods 45x45mm length 1330mm

steel beam 230x120mm masonry slab masonry slab

steel beam 230x120mm masonry slab masonry slab steel beam 230x120mm

masonry slab masonry slab steel beam 230x120mm

steel beam 230x120mm steel beam 230x120mm

masonry slab masonry slab

retractable solid black backdrop

approaching walkway at P+7400

window on the refinery industry

stage tower

retractable proscenium arch

Second floor and volume puncture (P+7000) 1:200

retractable solid black backdrop

multifunctional work gallery and balcony for large room

multifunctional exhibition gallery and balcony for large room



view on the torching installation

monumental staircase leading to central foyer

installation and storage space underneath staircase central heating central cooling central ventilation

entrance gallery

entrance gallery

monumental staircase annex seating arrangement

main entrance

paternoster elevators

outdoor stage

main entrance


approaching walkway at P+7400

Third floor (P+10500) 1:200 steel truss: horizontal tension bar 70x70mm, connected to beam by vertical pressure rods 45x45mm length 1330mm

pendelstaven ø 30mm

roof construction of steel trusses interconnected by pendelstaven, alluding to a coffered ceiling at P+12350

steel beam 230x120mm

steel beam 280x120mm

steel beam 280x120mm

beams supporting roof at P+13800

steel beam 280x120mm

steel beam 280x120mm

steel beam 230x120mm

steel beam 280x120mm

steel beam 230x120mm

steel beam 230x120mm

steel beam 230x120mm

steel beam 230x120mm

steel beam 230x120mm

steel beam 230x120mm

steel beam 230x120mm

steel beam 230x120mm

beams supporting roof at P+13800

beams supporting roof at P+13800 steel beam 230x120mm

steel beam 230x120mm

Fourth floor and podium (P+14000) 1:200

Detail 4 Tower faรงade & tower roof & pivoted window 1:20

Detail 1 Window on the refinery & podium floor & podium balustrade

Detail 3 Tower faรงade & tower floor above volume puncture

Detail 2 Window on the water & balustrade of outdoor stage & hidden gutter

Section 1:100

Side faรงade (scale 1:200)


Rear faรงade (scale 1:200)

Front faรงade (scale 1:200)


gutter inlet from under rooftop pavement

diamond plate flooring near balustrade

gutter roof trim I-profile with welded-on steel fitting for diagonal support for podium balustrade

combination beam of 2x U-profile with insulation break

combination beam: a U-profile with two welded-on flanges and a second smaller U-profile; with insulation break

glass panes fitted between two L-profiles attached to the respective inner and outer U-profiles

Detail 1 Window on the refinery & podium floor & podium balustrade 1:20

anthracite tiles

anthracite tiles hidden gutter

Detail 2 Window on the water & balustrade of outdoor stage & hidden gutter 1:20

combination beam: two U-profiles with insulation break

bare concrete hollow-core slab floor combination beam of two U-profiles

Detail 3 Tower faรงade & tower floor above volume puncture 1:20

ceiling of bare hollow-core slabs

combination beam: one U-profile, one L-profile to support the pivoted window frame, one L-profile to support the continued faรงade

pivoted window

Detail 4 Tower faรงade & tower roof & pivoted window 1:20

combination beam: a U-profile with two welded-on flanges and a second smaller U-profile; with insulation break












Chapter title pages (4, 10, 56, 96, 116): photos by the author.

Satellite photographs (6, 19, 38, 58-63, 67, 78-79, 85, 98, 102, 120, ): retrieved from Google Earth

Bird’s eye view photos (86-95, 130): retrieved from Bing Maps

Historical maps of Rotterdam (21, 30, 32, 35, 42): retrieved from Topotijdreis

“Oliewijk Hoogvliet” (45): retrieved from Havenarchitectuur : Een inventarisatie van industriële gebouwen in het Rotterdamse havengebied, p13. Peter de Winter, Rotterdamse Kunststichting Uitgeverij (Rotterdam, 1982)

Indication of underground pipelines (83): photos by the author

“Railway engineer C.W. Cox atop De Hef under construction” (26): Retrieved from Stadsarchief Rotterdam, document number 4100_X-59-01-1

“Floating grain elevators in the Rotterdam port” (26): retrieved from www.heijenbrock-beeldbank.org

“Algemeen Uitbreidingsplan Rotterdam” (28): retrieved from “Algemeen Uitbreidingsplan” & “De noodzaak van een Algemeen Uitbreidingsplan”, pp39-43. W.G. Witteveen en Rotterdam. Noor Mens, 010 Publishers (Rotterdam, 2007).

“De Schiedamsesingel met warenhuis De Bijenkorf.” (28): retrieved from Stadsarchief Rotterdam, document number 4100_1998-1068

“Het zooveelste gelukkige huwelijk van Pacha Rotterdam” (33): retrieved from www.delpher.nl. Rotterdamsch Nieuwsblad, 17 February 1928. “De raadszitting van gisteren. : Kroniek en critiek.”

“De wijk Nieuw Engeland” (43): retrieved from www.delpher.nl. Het Vrije Volk: democratisch-socialistisch dagblad, 24 January 1986. “Hoogvliet ziet niets in sloop van de Oliebuurt.”

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I would like to express my gratitude to my tutors Jochem, Hüsnü and Sjef for their continuous support for this project which seemed pointless and sometimes ridiculous at various points throughout the process. Special thanks go out to my parents who are always supportive of whatever craziness I am about to embark upon, my paycheck-signing friend Marcel, who invited us to our life-changing trip to Hizen-Hama-Shuku; Justin, who keeps me sharp and on edge until the point of insanity; and my amazing Yang, without your company I would not have found the energy to complete this entire ordeal.

. . .

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Breaking the Shell | Between the Oil and the City  

Few people know what goes on in the industrial refineries around the globe. Even fewer understand the impact they have on our landscapes, ou...

Breaking the Shell | Between the Oil and the City  

Few people know what goes on in the industrial refineries around the globe. Even fewer understand the impact they have on our landscapes, ou...