Building The Rotterdam
Project info

Building The Rotterdam
a photo documentary by Ruud Sies
December 2009 – November 2013

In 2009, while the world was officially in recession, the first pile was driven into the ground of Rotterdam’s Wilhelminapier for what would become the country’s largest building: De Rotterdam. Based on a design by OMA, Rem Koolhaas’s architectural firm, it is a vertical city on the bank of the Maas River, consisting of three towers, each about 150 meters high. Boasting a floor area of 160,000 square meters, it is the largest building in the Netherlands to be constructed at one time. The available parcel of land, the size of a football field, is sandwiched between existing buildings and the Maas in the spot where the Holland America Line (HAL) once set out to sea, carrying countless European migrants to Ellis Island between 1873 and 1978.
In the 1930s, Lewis W. Hine photographed the construction of the Empire State Building, a potent symbol of the New World. Like Hine, Sies focuses on the men and work and their physical labor. Another, less obvious influence was the Rotterdam photographer Cas Oorthuys, who captured the period of postwar reconstruction in his book Rotterdam dynamische stad (Rotterdam: Dynamic City). This book presented the image of a hard-working nation on its way to explosive economic growth. Oorthuys’s subjects included the HAL ships departing for the New World from Wilhelminapier, where De Rotterdam now stands.

From the moment the first shovel hit the earth (December 2009), the Rotterdam photographer Ruud Sies followed the construction workers with his camera. Many photographs are of the Portuguese and Turkish steel benders. From the start of the project, from 8 meters below the ground to more than 150 meters above it, they were responsible for building this vertical city. These were team players who precisely coordinated their actions and could trust each other blindly thanks to their long and intense working relationship.