Launched in 2008 with founding sponsor Knoll, the World Monuments Fund/Knoll Modernism Prize spotlights the individuals and organizations that preserve our modern built heritage through innovative architectural and design solutions. The 2016 World Monuments Fund/Knoll Modernism Prize is awarded to Molenaar & Co. architecten, Hebly Theunissen architecten, and landscape architect Michael van Gessel for the preservation and rehabilitation of the Justus van Effen complex in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The award recognizes the architectural significance of the Justus van Effen complex, the quality of the conservation work performed by the winning team, and the commitment of the architects, designers, and owner to recognizing the value of social housing.
Commissioned by Rotterdam’s municipal housing department in 1919, architect Michiel Brinkman designed the Justus van Effen complex to be built in the Spangen neighborhood of Rotterdam. At the time, Rotterdam was experiencing rapid growth as a port city. Gradually, neighborhoods surrounding the center of the city, including Spangen, developed as residential areas for the port workers. Although Brinkman’s plan was initially met with resistance because of its modern design, it was approved by the city council in 1920. Construction was completed in 1922.
With 264 dwellings and a boldly cantilevered walkway designed around a central courtyard, the complex presented a radical response to the pressing need for housing in the Netherlands following World War I. Additionally, the provision of areas for bathing, laundry, and communal gatherings for children and adults reflected the emerging modernist principle of the social value of collective life.
In the decades following its construction, the complex received international attention and recognition for its innovative design and structure, and influenced subsequent generations of architects, including the founders of Team 10 in the 1950s. Despite this, the complex, and the neighborhood as a whole, fell into a period of disrepair beginning in the 1970s. Many units were not maintained, the collective services areas became outdated, and a series of inappropriate alterations to the complex detracted significantly from the original cohesive design.
In 2000, a competition proposal submitted by Molenaar & Co. architecten and Hebly Theunissen architecten to restore the project to its original architectural brilliance was awarded a first prize, but not executed. The 2006 decision by the owner, Woonstad Rotterdam, to start a massive restoration and renovation project made it possible to break out of the negative spiral the complex was experiencing. The completed project aligns with the revitalization of Rotterdam’s Spangen neighborhood - an area that had become run-down and dangerous in the 1980s and 1990s and is now enjoying a resurgence - while still conveying the values of affordable housing.
The 2016 World Monuments Fund/Knoll Modernism Prize recognizes Molenaar & Co. architecten, Hebly Theunissen architecten, and Michael van Gessel for their ability to meet the current programmatic needs of the complex and to return the complex to its original architectural sophistication and cohesion. The project, which addresses all levels, from the building fabric to the public and urban domain, also reflects the commitment of Woonstad Rotterdam to ensuring the future of the complex for future generations.