The Architecture of Cities: Rotterdam, the Passion for the Whale

For decades as I look through the rear view mirror I realize that whales have been swimming around in my brain for quite sometime.

The first time I saw a whale, I was six years old. I was at the beach positioned next to P.O.P (Pacific Ocean Park) in Santa Monica. A Blue Whale was beached: Cetacean Stranding: the phenomenon is commonly referred to. I was with my mother and an assorted mass of relatives.

It is a bit disconcerting that one of the greatest of great mammals was beached next to my skin and yet this tiny tot was the only one who remembered such an episode. Then again maybe it is true what some say: fiction is the greatest truth.

Historically, whales represent mythical experiences: Melville’s  Ahab chasing the “Great White: The masterful German artist Albrecht Durer crossing a veritable Europe to draw a stranded Cetacean: and me, a photographer living life like Charlton Heston’s Ben-Hur with chariot harnessed horses raging against envious enemies as I stood naked atop two blue whales. My lore resides atop the seven seas instead of a meager Colosseum.

Both Ahab and Durer would have stripped naked as well if it meant mastering their conquests as I have tried. Ahab’s death was equally victorious and decidedly torturous: Durer almost dies questing a glimpse of the whale ashore from sea: I merely dream (with a ton of camera weight in tow) that one day my photography conquests matches my hallucinatory aspirations at sea.

“The Apple” by Architect KCAP.

My pre-dawn train pulled into Rotterdam train station. My mind was accompanied by Ryuichi Sakamoto’s stirring soundtrack to Ryuichi Sakamoto – Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence – YouTube “Merry Christmas Mr.Lawrence”. It was my anthem to see by as my mission began. Aspirations begin to mingle about: they can be larger than life itself.

I felt something in the moment: There was a lilt in my voice, some flight in my gait, and some delicious visual observations in my gaze.

Central Station By Architect by Team Sand MVSA and WEST 8.

My reason to be in Rotterdam was to photograph the firm MVRDV led by Winy Maas. Then I would photograph their BOOK MOUNTAIN, a fabulously designed library just outside Rotterdam in Spijkenisse. Once that mission was accomplished I could take on the city of Rotterdam.

Book Mountain: the library bu MVRDV.

Rotterdam in someways is a smaller version of New York City. I say that as a compliment: It is a bit of a carnival. There is so much to see and do. There is a congestion of sorts, but if you know how to get around you feel like you can walk the entire city. Rotterdam has the feeling that around any corner an architectural delight will appear: The Central Station is easily the boldest exterior I have seen. The Market Hall feels like a whale has come ashore right in the middle of the city. The famous architect REM Koolhaas looms everywhere you look but so does the firm MVRDV.

Then you have the delights of the Cube Houses by Piet Blom: the Old Harbor which has been more infiltrated than gentrified by the new skyscrapers.

Alvaro Siza “The New Orleans.”

By night or day there may be evil lurking. But like any great city, you feel as if the city is yours to own, to explore: eat, drink, and…

The Rotterdam by OMA.

The city’s history dates back more than eight-hundred years. The history is worth volumes of considerations and volumes of historical biographies. I am in and out of cities faster than a hummingbird can draw nectar. I come away with a mere treat, an impression. The ghosts of Rotterdam toiled  along my side for miles. The stories they have shared, the admirable visual directions they have shared, are embedded in my archives and in my mind for a lifetime.

All photos by Richard Schulman.

Richard Schulman is a photographer and writer. His books include Portraits of the New Architecture and Oxymoron & Pleonasmus. He lives in New York City.