On Rokin, between Scheltema and the NRC office building, two new department stores are under construction on the foundations of the former Fortis headquarters. With its eighty metre long façade, the Fortis building, which was barely thirty years old, was out of place in the city’s historic centre. The plot has been divided into two, giving rise to a street frontage that is far more in keeping with the historic urban fabric.
Both department stores are to house the Canadian company Hudson’s Bay. Initially, Marks & Spencer and Haussmann were to have occupied these buildings on Rokin. Early this year, however, both agreements were cancelled by mutual consent. In addition, Hudson’s Bay also signed a lease early this year for the Vleeshal on Nes.
Both department stores were designed by the architectural office Rijnboutt. They hark back to an illustrious period in Amsterdam’s history: the last quarter of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. ‘It was the period of urban core formation, of increase in scale and democratization’, according to Rijnboutt architect Frederik Vermeesch. Department stores increased in size; Maison de Bonneterie (which now houses H&M’s flagship store), for example, and Magazijn De Bijenkorf. On Rokin the elevations of Hudson’s Bay are transparent with large windows, while on Nes they are smaller in scale.
Traditional materials and techniques were employed in the construction of the department stores. The left-hand elevation, for example, is executed in brick and natural stone and is crowned with a slate clad roof. It required a high degree of skill to get the different roof slopes (75 and 60 degrees) to look the same while employing a French style roofing technique on the corners. The roof structure of the right-hand department store consists of a curved glass clad, lozenge-shaped steel frame. It was prefabricated off site in a large shed in the town of Almelo. It was then transported to the building site at night in seventeen sections and lifted into place. The façade below this eighty ton roof structure features spectacular curved glass oriel windows.
The department stores form part of the facelift for Rokin and the ‘Rode Loper’ (red carpet) project. In this new entrance to the city, which runs from Amsterdam’s main railway station Centraal Station to Albert Cuyp, traffic streams are to be separated and pedestrians will have priority. Amsterdam’s nineteenth-century dream will perhaps then be realized: a grand boulevard like De Meir in Antwerp. At any rate, it already has the department stores.