Maaskantpark Groot Handelsgebouw opened to the public

A Garden Design in the Spirit of Architect H.A. Maaskant

The Groot Handelsgebouw was the showpiece of the reconstruction of bombed Rotterdam in 1953. It is now a national monument, which made the task of designing the inner garden even more challenging.

When working with a national monument, you cannot alter the original design. Any modifications must be designed in the spirit of the architect and must be easily removable. One of the requirements is that each addition must be removable within a day. Normally, we prefer to work in open ground, but due to this requirement, we used movable containers. In this case, relatively small containers specifically designed to be filled with soil and plants and easily moved. By placing them tightly together and allowing the soil to spill over the edges, we create a sense of unity.

The garden of the Groot Handelsgebouw is named Maaskantpark, in honor of architect Huig Maaskant, who designed the building with Ir. Willem van Tijen. In choosing the containers and the color scheme of the plants, we deliberately aligned with Maaskant’s vision. The color of the containers matches the detailing of the building. The placement and sizing of the containers are entirely in line with the building’s rhythm. To perfect this, we collaborated with architects who conducted historical research. We developed the master vision for the building with the Rotterdam municipal Monumentenzorg.

Another factor that added to the complexity: due to the height of the building and various coverings, bright sunlight and deep shadows alternate. In some spots, sunlight never reaches. Normally, you would use plant lighting in such cases, but again, as it is a national monument, no extra lighting can be added. Fortunately, there are plants, such as Aspidistra and Fatsia, which require minimal light and remain green year-round.

**A User Space with Historical Value**

We not only consider the historical value of a building but also (or rather: especially) aim to make it an attractive park for its current users.

Originally, the Groot Handelsgebouw housed many businesses destroyed during the bombing of Rotterdam. The building featured a unique element: an internal street along several floors where trucks could load and unload. As a nod to this past, we transformed this roadway into a graceful alley with plantings on both sides.

Today, the GHG still accommodates various offices and shops. Employees can use Maaskantpark to escape the daily hustle, find inspiration, hold outdoor meetings, or even play a game of petanque.

**The Planting: Over 550 Plant Species Across Nearly 100 m²**

We completed the entire project in two phases. In the first phase, we added plantings to the roadway. In the second phase, we greened parts of the balconies, the terrace of the former Engels restaurant, and the exterior. Starting in June 2024, Maaskantpark will extend to the ramp.

For the terrace, we added many citrus plants. The balconies feature a gradient: the planting is dark at the bottom, becoming lighter as you go higher, ending in white at the top. Our designer, Harry Pierik, a plant wizard and aspiring poet, fondly calls this the “Seven Steps to Heaven.”

In the first phase, we included about 400 different plant species. The second phase involved approximately 350 species, 150 of which were new. In total, you can find over 550 different plant species in Maaskantpark. We pulled out all the stops botanically: shrubs, trees, climbers, perennials, annuals, ferns, grasses, flowers, and bulbs – it’s all there. And yet we managed to create a unified whole. Unity in diversity is one of our principles. This ensures there’s always something surprising to discover year-round, and insects, birds, and other animals can find food all year long. In other words, these 550 different plants do a lot for biodiversity.

**Good Management is Essential for Maaskantpark to Thrive**

Regular maintenance is essential to keep all these plants beautiful and healthy. The monumental status of the GHG adds to the complexity. We couldn’t install a computerized irrigation system in many areas, something we usually do. Each plant has different water needs. Such a system knows exactly how much water a plant needs, how much rain has fallen, and can add water very precisely. In this case, however, that’s not possible, and large sections must be watered by hand. For the Groot Handelsgebouw, we work with a gardener who comes twice a week to water and care for the plants.

But be sure to visit yourself. And when you do, take photos, share them with your network, and spread the word. We hope the beauty and diversity of Maaskantpark inspire others to enhance urban areas with high-quality planting, bringing more nature to the 21st-century city.