The Shipping and Transport College in Rotterdam combines all the knowledge of the maritime and logistics sector in one single institute with different educational and consultancy departments. The site for this new building is a magnificent corner of a former harbour pier that overlooks the River Maas. The idea of the building is to make a robust volume as an emblematic icon for the institute, referring to the sculptural harbour architecture of silos, cranes and ships.
The complex has a strong zigzag shape, a kinked volume that tapers upward from a broad foot planted firmly on the quayside, to present a 70-metre tall backward-leaning tower that widens at the top into a broad crown cantilever. Whereas the foot contains a large window directed towards the river, the head literally nods in the direction of the North Sea, like a giant periscope. The tower is organized as a vertical school. Instead of classrooms to either side of a broad corridor, here they sit one above the other, linked by an open route of escalators. These escalators allow the flow of students to move through the building rapidly. At regular intervals double height open areas crop up throughout the tower, as schoolyards where the pupils can meet. The cantilevering top of the tower is a congress hall seating 300 persons. The prodigiously jutting colossus offers congress-goers a dizzying view over the Port of Rotterdam. On the lower floors in the foot of the building collective functions are laid out, such as the restaurants, the central hall, the sports centre, the virtual simulation rooms, the documentation centre and workshops. The side of the square houses a bookshop and a grand-café to enhance public life in this area of the city.
The interior of the building is divided up into neutral ambiances in the educational spaces and strong ambiances in the specific communal spaces such as restaurants, sports hall and auditorium. This clears the way for isolated ambiances based on cliché-ridden evocations – a smoky sailors' tavern, a booming officers' mess, a canvas-covered Nile boat – to materialize without the danger of an all-embracing house style. The students move from scene to scene by an escalator slowly churning its way upwards through the heart of the tower, as if in a claustrophobic submarine. The elevation of the building is devised as an industrial-looking port installation on the Maas River. Not only the potent basic form, but also the scale-free composition of the façade contributes to this image. The walls of stacked containers in the dockland areas were a useful referential image for a chessboard pattern of silver-grey and steelblue corrugated sheets, held in heavy metal frames. The uniform cladding forms and unifying industrial skin that covers the façades, roofs and overhangs of the sculptural volume, emphasizes the maritime character of the building.