The Schouwburgplein (Theater Square) is in the very heart of Rotterdam, right next to the philharmonic orchestra, mega-cinema, museum quarter, and shopping streets. This makes it an important pedestrian hub for anyone visiting the city. Today, it is a big and open modern square, and it’s hard to imagine anything else. But it used to be a simple concrete block with no imagination whatsoever.
This was changed in the late 1990s when landscape architect Adriaan Geuze designed what’s been called one of the most modern urban squares in the world. The square was raised about two feet above the ground to contrast it from the surrounding area, and a floor was made out of a mixture of materials including sheet metal, wood, and glass. A giant, 200-foot bench was installed on the east side to allow people to enjoy the sunshine, and four massive, red, bent streetlamps were installed to light the square at night.
These mammoth mechanical lights look a lot like harbor cranes, which is no coincidence as Geuze was heavily inspired by the Rotterdam harbor—both the square and the lamps represent the sea with their wavy pattern and colors. At the time they were built, the kinetic lamps moved once every hour to a random position, much like the British changing of the guards. It was even possible for people to interact with the lamp posts, by paying 1 gulden to set any lamp to any position.
These days the square is always in use for something: open art exhibitions, flea markets, festivals, you name it. The crane-like lanterns still shine on the square but have been stationary for a while now. The city insists that this is temporary, so perhaps they will move again soon.
Know Before You Go
The square is a 5-minute walk from Central Station.