Dutch port city emerging from Amsterdam’s shadow with eye-popping architecture, willingness to innovate, and a proposed Windwheel that just might change the world.
By Richard Massey
Of the world’s national brands, perhaps none are as well known, or as admired, as the Dutch windmill.
Symbolic of the country’s ingenuity and can-do attitude, the windmill speaks to the Dutch ability to not only make a lot out of a little, but to flourish in the process. So it should come as no surprise that the windmill-inspired Dutch Windwheel – a colossal waterfront wind turbine that also has apartments, a hotel, and offices – is poised to embody the country’s commitment to the economy of the future.
But this incredible, 570-foot Windwheel, which will produce more energy than it uses and employ the most advanced clean tech in existence, is not planned for Amsterdam, Holland’s acclaimed center of art and progressivism. Instead, the Windwheel is proposed for Rotterdam, which over the last couple of decades, has asserted itself as one of the world’s premier incubators of cutting edge architecture.
“The climate is set for a project like the Dutch Windwheel,” says Duzan Doepel, cofounder and principal of Rotterdam-based Doepel Strijkers, the architecture firm that designed the Windwheel. “Developers from across the world have come to us and said they want to build it tomorrow – but we’re not ready yet.”
Though it was designed as a piece of architecture, the real intent of the Windwheel is to serve as a product, the central piece of a futuristic business plan tying together clean energy, real estate, and tourism. Developed by the consortium of Doepel Strijkers, Meysters and BLOC, otherwise known as The Windwheel Corp., the project has piqued international interest, and innovation partners include SIEMENS, HUAWEI, MAMMOET, and PNO.
While its symbolism is inspired by the windmill, the Windwheel’s greater ambition is to signify the transition away from fossil fuels, Doepel says. In that context, Rotterdam is the perfect location to determine if the most sophisticated ideas of a circular economy – energy, water, waste and materials in a closed cycle – can be realized within a workable business model.
“Can we bring it all together in a building?” he says.
Though the market seems ripe for the Windwheel – investors form the United States, Europe, and China want the project – Doepel says it’s still in the feasibility stage, that research and development is ongoing, and that nothing is set in stone.
“There’s no guarantee that we will build it,” he says, referencing the 2025 timeframe.
The development of the Windwheel comes as Rotterdam, considered the second city of the Netherlands, emerges as a destination for an assortment of temporary and permanent arrivals. Tourism, foreign investment, and knowledge migrants are all on the rise, according to economic development agency Rotterdam Partners. Also of note is that Rotterdam made Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel City 2016.
The city’s momentum, in large part, is due to the architecture and the free-flowing spirit it has engendered. In 1940 during the Rotterdam Blitz of World War II, the Germans bombed the city, destroying nearly the entire historic core. When it came time to rebuild, Rotterdam did not seek to replicate what was lost. Rather, the city looked to the horizon.
These days, Rotterdam, the largest port in Europe, features the Cube Houses by Piet Blom, the De Rotterdam hotel and office complex by renowned firm OMA, the Timmerhuis, also by OMA, the Markthal Rotterdam by MVRDV, and the Erasmus Bridge by UNStudio (formerly van Berkel and Bos).
Duzan, a native of South Africa, came to Rotterdam in 1996 as an intern for MVRDV. He stayed in Holland, and in 2007, cofounded his firm with partner Eline Strijkers.
“I fell in love with Dutch design,” he says. “It’s free. I didn’t envision that same freedom in South Africa.”
Duzan is the one who in January famously told Dezeen Magazine that “Amsterdam is the city of the past, Rotterdam is the city of the future,” a double-down on his Windwheel design.
Rotterdam city officials have partnered with international consultant advisor Jeremy Rifkin, who champions the Third Industrial Revolution, a world-changing paradigm shift based on technology and renewable energy, a shift Rifkin says will create billions of jobs and transform the global economy.
Rotterdam is already headed down that road, making the Windwheel a logical expression of local ideals. Doepel says as much.
“It [the Windwheel] is based on the kinds of things we see going on in the city,” he says.
Even if the Windwheel is never built, the groundbreaking design has made headlines across the world. Composed of two loops – an inner ring for offices, apartments and a restaurant, and an outer ring that serves as a new-era Ferris wheel – the Windwheel is designed to generate electricity through wind and solar, capture and recycle water, and convert waste into biofuel. The project has been featured in Gizmag, Forbes, Popular Science, and Tech Insider, in addition to the standard rounds the design has made through the industry.
Doepel says the notoriety has been good for business, as the Windwheel has inspired clients to come to his firm with various proposals. And though he hails from South Africa, he has warmed to the simple ethos the Dutch invoke when asked to innovate.
“Try it,” he says.