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Justus van Effen Rotterdam

Renovation of a world-famous public-housing complex

6 september 2012 marked the official completion of the renovation of the Justus van Effencomplex in the Spangen quarter of Rotterdam. This listed public-housing complex dates from 1922, when it achieved international fame on the basis of a world première: its raised residential street. After a full restoration programme, the complex now consists of modern apartments. Thanks to unstinting efforts on the part of the city’s Woonstad housing corporation, the celebrated complex has been restored to its former glory, but now with 154 new homes that meet the most recent norms for comfort and energy efficiency.

In 2013, this project brought Molenaar & Co architects and Hebly Theunissen architects two awards: the Gulden (Golden) Phoenix Rijksprijs voor Renovatie (i.e. the National Golden Phoenix Renovation Prize) and the Roterodamum Restauratieprijs (i.e. the Rotterdam Restoration Prize).

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Built in a combination of yellow IJsselsteen and red-brown brick, the complex has four floors and a flat roof. With front doors opening onto a landscaped inner courtyard, some parts have the intimacy of a village in the city.

In 1918, August Plate, director of the Municipal Housing Corporation, commissioned architect Michiel Brinkman to design a complex with 264 homes. Situated in the new Spangen estate, it was to be a high-density garden suburb consisting of two interlocking blocks covering barely one hectare. Plate also required a number of revolutionary communal facilities: a bath-house, a laundry house and two service lifts, all concentrated with a boilerhouse at the centre of the complex. Each apartment had central heating and one disposal chute for kitchen waste for every four households. As well as public gardens, the courtyard had private gardens for those living in the downstairs flats. But the most striking detail was the elevated ‘street’ that gave upstairs residents a front door on the public thoroughfare.

As part of an urban regeneration project in the 1980s, the original 264 flats, which measured only 50m2, were merged to create 164 standard 100 m2 maisonettes. To disguise the many repairs that had been made over the years, the original courtyard facades were painted white. Spangen nonetheless declined rapidly, and the poky new flats quickly fell behind the times.

In 2000, under the slogan ‘Monument Spangen,’ Molenaar & Co architects won a competition to generate ideas together with our fellow architects, Hebly Theunissen. But the project was then kept on hold. Six years later, Han Michel Concepts & Projects advised Woonstad Rotterdam (the current owner) to go ahead with far-reaching restoration work. The slogan became ‘100% monument, 100% now.’ The project included returning the facades to their original form, renewing the stairwells or restoring them to their original form, and replacing aluminium window frames with wooden replicas of the originals, now housing concealed CO2 demand-controlled ventilation grilles. The homes have high-specification insulation, and underfloor heating and cooling is connected to a central thermal-storage installation in the stokehold below the former bath house. As a result of vertical integration, the 154 rental and owner-occupier homes range in area from 50 m2 to over 100 m2, with a few measuring 200 m2.

Main contractor Jurriëns Bouw started work in 2010. Landscape architect Michael van Gessel was responsible for redesigning the courtyard area, and W/E adviseurs for the energy concept.

Project information


Woonstad Rotterdam


Justus van Effenstraat, Rotterdam



completed at

Jurriëns Bouw, Utrecht, Michael van Gessel landschapsarchitect, A'dam, W/E adviseurs, Utrecht

photography by

BK (Bas Kooij) Visuals