ZUS: rebel with a cause
TEXT: TJEERD LANGSTRAAT | PHOTOGRAPHY: ANTIM
It’s a bit of an ugly duckling in the midst of all the work spaces in RCD: the Schieblock. Homebase to startups, creative minds and enticing places for an evening out like Biergarten, Annabel and, of course, ZUS; the initiator of the Schieblock, with Kristian and Elma at the helm. In a previous interview with Lotte Haagsma, they were called ‘the
buccaneers of urban design, the artisans of the new city who welded together rough neighbourhoods with a few well-placed interventions’.
Even before the economic crisis, there were plans for demolition and renewal in the area that is now called Rotterdam Central District (RCD). We know that Rotterdam
can take down buildings like no other and ZUS has always been committed to a more gradual development that leaves room for historic buildings from after the Second World War.
“We’ve been here for 18 years already. We are a firm specialising in architecture, urban design and landscape and give both solicited and unsolicited advice about projects, commissioned or not. Since our arrival in the Schieblock in the year 2000, we have become more and more fascinated by the area and how, on the one hand, there was this kind of shinyness with multinationals and, on the other hand, there was a kind of ghetto. And we were smack in the middle of it all.
From that fascination, we came on our own initiative to take a fresh entrepreneurial look at the area. We wanted to get a feel for new opportunities, in a spatial
sense, but also among the different types of entrepreneurs here. By connecting people. That is how we began building a laboratory of sorts with all kinds of
projects, big and small.
In that sense, we managed to save the buildings around the Schieblock from demolition and actually get the area up and running again. Thanks to the crisis, there has been a change of heart that perhaps it is worthwhile to preserve existing buildings and to have another look at how we can make a different kind of city.”
“RCD has always said, we want to become the Rotterdam Glocal (global local) City District. We’ve got the hang of global, since there are plenty of large and
corporate multinationals, and we’ve gotten more concrete with local. It’s proof that the two can go hand in hand. It’s not black and white, but they complement
each other nicely.
What I like most, is that you also see people from Unilever coming for a drink at Biergarten, and Coolblue organises its company parties at Annabel. An enrichment of the ecosystem, you might say.”
“We carried out a study for the municipality into the transformation of the area. At the time, we helped develop the Schieblock and were the initiators of the Luchtsingel Foundation. That is where we made a conscious decision to distance ourselves from both, to be more autonomous in thinking about the question:
We’ve made great strides in developing the area and proving that it can be done differently. The worst that can happen is that we would have to continue in the traditional way having learned nothing. To prevent that from happening, we’ve opened up a gallery, Incomplete Unfinished, in the Schiestraat. The intention here is to encourage dialogue among politicians, entrepreneurs and designers.”
“We’ve made new proposals for the future of this area. They have not yet been made public, because we’re still figuring out the details. In September, we will publish a book, De stad van permanente tijdelijkheid (meaning: the city of permanent temporality), in which we describe the past 18 years and where we paint a picture of the future based on everything we’ve learned and experienced. And this will help to initiate a general discussion in the city about this topic.
We have come to love this area and we’ve grown up here. What’s more, the area has made us into who we are today. We are inextricably connected to it. We also want
what is best for the city, so there is enough room for more than one outcome.”
ZUS stands for Zones Urbaines Sensibles and is founded by Elma van Boxel and Kristian Koreman. They were both educated in landscape architecture. Van Boxel went
on to study architecture and urban design, Koreman philosophy. In 2001, they set up the ZUS agency. They acquired international fame and prestigious assignments, including projects for the Chinese city of Shenzhen to restructure the city centre.
Their breakthrough with the general public came in 2012 with the Luchtsingel: the wooden pedestrian bridge that connects Noord (the north of Rotterdam) with the city
centre. Meanwhile, they have also become the rebellious face of Rotterdam’s urban development.