Erasmus Magazine has new premises (HB-108). High time for us to get to know our surrounding even better. Although Cornelis Elffers (1898-1987) is the architect who designed Buildings A (Erasmus Building), B (the Library), C (Theil) and H (Tinbergen Building), it’s Gerard Frishert who currently knows everything there is to know about this municipal monument. As an architect and visual artist, he is responsible for the renovation of these buildings. Join us as he takes on a tour where we’ll look at the remarkable details of Woudestein’s architectural monuments.
1. French inspiration
In 1961, the municipality of Rotterdam was dead set against having the new EUR (at the time still known as the Nederlandse Economische Hogeschool) education centre located in the city centre. “People still remark that it’s a shame the university isn’t in the city centre”, says Frishert. “Various locations were explored, including the area where Erasmus MC now stands, but the city insisted that it had to be on the outskirts of the city.” One advantage of this was that it made it possible to build a huge complex. This was probably architect Cornelis Elffer’s biggest project. The more space he got, the more he expanded his plans. Buildings A, B and C, along with the sport complex (S) were the first buildings on campus. In the end, the current Tinbergen Building was assigned the letter H for highrise, instead of the letter D which was next in the sequence. “It might also have acquired the letter ‘I’ instead because it used to be referred to as the institutes building”. The central square was given the letter P and is now the Mr. M.P. van der MandelePlein.
The first thing you notice as you approach the C Building are the well-known concrete slabs around the windows. These concrete frames around the windows of the C hall perhaps reminded Elffers of France, inspired by the architecture of the renowned architect Le Corbusier”, explains Frishert enthusiastically. “Elffers was a Francophile. The concrete frame on the long south-facing façade had a very practical purpose: passive sun blinds, called ‘brise soleil’ in architecture jargon. The government stipulated that new government buildings were to be delivered without climate control. Back then they couldn’t get the temperature in the C hall higher than 15 degrees in the winter.” It’s different these days. One reason is that windows are fitted with double glazing.
2. Concrete, glass, steel and a touch of colour
“A lot of people think that the reconstruction phase was completed in the fifties and sixties”, says Frishert. “That was true for much of the reconstruction of houses, shops and factories, but not for government buildings”. Those plans were delayed by the flood disaster. ‘Austere’ and ‘functionalism’ were important buzzwords for the Woudestein Campus plans when they were drawn up late fifties and early sixties. “That’s why the primary materials were concrete, glass and steel. There wasn’t much scope for ornamentation or colour. While the ceiling of the C hall has always been red, it was artwork that was commonly introduced to add some colour. The Karel Appel artwork at the main entrance of the H Building is a good example. There was no other decoration, even plinths were considered to be too decorative.” Around ten years ago, Frishert also designed and created a number of artworks, including the ‘Broche’, which now hangs in the C hall and adds some colour to the space. “It’s comprised of 85 elements of fused glass in five different sizes and it weighs 6500 kilograms.”
3. A special WC for Beatrix
Anyone walking through the corridor from the C Building to the A Building (going left from the Theil hall in the direction of the Aula) finds themselves – probably without being aware of it – on the Queen’s route. Naturally, dignitaries couldn’t enter through the regular entrance, so a special route was created.” This route takes you in a special lift from street level at the back of the Erasmus Building to the ground floor. The lift was large enough for the queen and her royal constabulary”, explains Frishert. There’s a full-blown VIP room on the first floor with a special royal toilet. That means only dignitaries are allowed to use this WC. “Once when Queen Beatrix visited the campus, she only agreed to come if there was a special toilet just for her. We had to convert a broom closet on the first floor of Building A for her. It’s now a pantry close to the Beadle’s office.”
4. The thumb of Desiderius Multiplex
A long-standing graduation tradition at Erasmus University is having your picture taken with the statue of Erasmus. The thumb on the statue deliberately points up, says Frishert. The statue of Erasmus at the Examination Chambers, Desiderius Multiplex, is another of Frishert’s works of art. He worked on it with 64 other people. “The upturned thumb is actually kind of a way of congratulating students on their achievement”, Frishert says. “It’s Erasmus as he really would have appeared back then. He was quite vain and he had a few portraits of himself commissioned. The best sculptor in the Netherlands modelled his face.” Frishert himself stood as the model for the body of the statue and the clothing for this Erasmus was designed by the Pope’s couturier. “I bought the book he’s holding for a tenner at the de Slegte bookstore.”
5. The Aula
This is one of the world’s unique spaces, Frishert says as we stand before the Aula. “It’s the only building solely designed for conducting ceremonies. For ceremonies such as the Opening of the Academic Year, all the professors descend via the staircase on the left, while non-academic staff uses the one on the right and student associations enter through the front door. That’s how it was conceived and that’s how official celebrations still proceed. The soft furnishings in the Aula, which is at the same time the largest lecture hall on campus, will be refurbished ‘at some point’ in the coming two years. The original design provided good acoustics for speaking in this space. “All one-thousand people in the lecture hall should be able to hear you speak without the aid of a microphone, but due to changes made in the room, that’s no longer the case. Nowadays the acoustics are regulated using electronic amplification.”
6. The most colourful nook
According to the original design of these nationally listed buildings, colour is not meant to be a feature of these buildings. “Regardless, I was asked to reintroduce some colour”, says Frishert as we walk into the gown room on the first floor of the A Building. This is probably where you’ll find the most colourful nook on campus. The different colours each represent one of the faculties. The closets are bursting with the professors’ ceremonial apparel. A just-returned gown that barely fits on a hanger in the closets.
7. Footbridge to avoid the plebs
We’re not able to cross the footbridge to the H Building this time around. The renovation (needed to remove asbestos) should be completed by May, hopes Frishert. “There was a lot of squabbling about the construction of this footbridge. The central government felt it was totally unnecessary, but at that time, the thinking here was: professors can’t be expected to walk among the plebs in their academic gowns as they go to the Aula. Back then, academic staff was housed in the H Building and this footbridge gave them easy access to the A Building.” The central government thought that paying for such a thing was complete nonsense, and it was the Ministry of Reconstruction that was funding the project. But it was built in the end, and the government paid for it.
8. Places for the elite
There is one detail still visible today that shows that the professors all used to be housed in the H Building. “See that marble trim along the lift? Decorative elements aren’t consistent with the basic principles of ‘functionalism’, but you see this marble ornamentation in just a few places. Here, at the main entrance of the H Building, and at the Senate Hall where the PhD defence ceremonies take place. These areas were meant for the elite.”