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Architecture Workroom
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IABR-Atelier Rotterdam— and test site M4H

Biennale, city and port join forces in city harbor M4H

A global player, the Port of Rotterdam has a special relationship with the City of Rotterdam. Though this relationship has become more fragile in recent decades, the arenas in which the City and the Port come together, the so-called ‘city harbors’, are now of growing importance. After all, this is where smart links between the inevitable transitions in energy and resource use (circular port, circular economy) and the broader socioeconomic development of both residents and businesses in the city can be established.

(c) Maxime Peeters

In Rotterdam, the Port Authority and the City are intertwined in a single (urban) system like conjoined twins. In the city harbors they can explore, design, and test the transition to the future Rotterdam together. One of the city harbors in which port development and urban development come together is the Merwe-Vierhavens district (M4H) where IABR, Port and City have now established the Test Site M4H+.

City and Port in Transition

Formerly a major global fruit transition hub, the Merwe-Vierhavens district is now transforming into a completely new residential and commercial area. M4H is one of the areas highlighted in the City Harbor Program – a program by the City of Rotterdam and the Port of Rotterdam aimed at realizing distinct living and working conditions in the city’s harbor areas in the coming decades.

M4H is in a strategic location: next to vulnerable residential areas, such as the Delfshaven and Bospolder-Tussendijken neighborhoods; in the middle of an economically active port area and yet close to the city center; and opposite the knowledge campus RDM Rotterdam on the other side of the river.

The City and the Port recently launched the Rotterdam Makers District, which includes M4H and the RDM and is expected to become the hub of the innovative manufacturing industry in the Metropolitan Region. And with good reason: the old industrial buildings, the sheer size of M4H, and the fresh dynamics arising there offer many opportunities for the development of new residential and commercial typologies, of innovative maker spaces, of test facilities, and of knowledge platforms. Connecting the area to the surrounding neighborhoods (M4H+) presents an opportunity to create new jobs and to provide the ‘working population of the twenty-first century’ with new expertise and skills. And that is necessary if the goal is an inclusive city with an economy that adds local value to the city and empowers its inhabitants.

As a previous study by IABR–Atelier Rotterdam, The Productive City, already demonstrated, M4H is one example of an area where the gap between high-tech and low-tech, thinking and creating, and living and working can be bridged.

Test Site M4H+: Pilot Project and Showcase

As its proprietors, the City of Rotterdam and the Port of Rotterdam together face the challenge of making this city harbor area future proof. The aim is to generate concrete development principles and pilot projects, and therefore the IABR, the City of Rotterdam, and the Port Authority have established Test Site M4H+ as part of the IABR–Atelier Rotterdam.

Until 2020, the IABR–Atelier Rotterdam will focus on the question of how Rotterdam can use the inevitable energy transition as a lever for socially inclusive urban development to make the city resilient.

While the Atelier takes the energy transition as its starting point, M4H+ takes spatial design and integrality as its premise. There are many challenges in and around the M4H area. Here, the energy transition and social issues inevitably link up with challenges in the fields of circular economy, the (small) manufacturing industry, and food and water management. The transformation of both the M4H area and of the directly surrounding neighborhoods has to be addressed in one single urban project: researching, imagining, designing, and testing with the essential energy transition as leverage and spatial design as the instrument.

In the coming years, the Atelier will design and test plans for circular area development in collaboration with local stakeholders in M4H and in the surrounding neighborhoods. Test Site M4H+ will be a pilot project and showcase for the solutions needed to optimally integrate the space that the old port economy has left behind in what will become the resilient Rotterdam of the future.

In 2018, the IABR will use the HAKA Building, a listed industrial monument in the M4H district, to present its main exhibition and program. During the biennale, the HAKA Building will also be in use as the temporary headquarters of Test Site M4H+.

Test Site M4H+ is a collaboration of the IABR, the City of Rotterdam and the Rotterdam Port Authority, and is part of the IABR–Atelier Rotterdam.
The research by design for Test Site M4H+ is carried out by TEAM 1010, consisting of 1010au, Mariska Vogel, Ronald Van Der Heijden, DRIFT, 5PBGM, and Witteveen+Bos.

The Lead Designer is Joachim Declerck (Architecture Workroom Brussels).

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With structural support from the Flemish government and regular support from the Brussels capital region and other regional and local governments.