>> Brief notes and impressions on Rotterdam after my first visit to the city last evening.

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Rotterdam is a digital city.

Since it was flattened by bombs in World War Two, Rotterdam lost the constraints of history that often come with a heritage built environment, giving space for the emergence of a highly experimental city.

Whereas Amsterdam is analog, Rotterdam expresses the essence of 21st century digital urbanism.

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The Erasmusbruge spans over the Maas

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Building a new home in Rotterdam. Netherlands

In Rotterdam, striking structures that betray their origins in digital architectural software are layered over 1960 modernist apartment buildings and retail strips. Enormous buildings make post-modern statements about space and identity. Digital clocks and screens are common, adding noiseless flashing light to the city’s electric aura.

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I visited Rotterdam last night, and experienced a version of the city that I felt to be quite honest: a grey February day gave way to a blustery, snowy evening – the perfect backdrop for a city of futurist metal, steel, and concrete. I was in Rotterdam for a party at the Drijvend Paviljoen – a series of 3 geodesic domes that were lit-up with neon colours and emitting a low electric hum, muted house music that could be heard from outside.

Comparing Amsterdam and Rotterdam is as irresistible as doing the same with Toronto and Montreal. In the Netherlands, these two cities went two very different ways, expressing extremely different elements of the Dutch psyche.

Amsterdam was the capital of design and progressive urban planning at a time when prevailing technology was analog, and so the city is characterized by the physical and mechanical: canal networks, rope pulley systems to ease moving furniture, manual signs announcing the times of the next tram (the mechanism spins hypnotically when the sign changes), and public analog clocks.

Amsterdam

Manual tram signs in Amsterdam

Given Rotterdam’s history, it has had a very different experience of design and planning. I’ve heard that more and more of Dutch culture comes out of Rotterdam, and I get it. Rotterdam is the city of the now: a thoroughly digital urbanism. Despite Rotterdam’s extreme digitization however, it holds remnants of analog Dutch design. As in Amsterdam, the crosswalks in Rotterdam tick mechanically, building up to a rapid clicking that audibly signals it’s time to cross.

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