/Rotterdam: Small business survival in a land of Inc. and money

Rotterdam: Small business survival in a land of Inc. and money

On the outside, Rotterdam’s Het Schieblock boasts no immediate significance. It has an unspecified number of different shades of grey, and on a rainy October day, it seems as good a building as any to just walk by. But if you decide otherwise and feel drawn by the wooden staircase painted in yellow that breaks the grey painting and leads you to the entrance, you will find a modern office landscape that is in stark contrast to the charmless exterior of the building. With its old concrete ceiling, visible green, red and grey wires and factory-like floor, it is a setting that seemingly does not spark creativity. However, the people sat at the office desks work with both architecture and graphic design, publishing and landscaping, and with a black curly dog wandering around, a fancy, shiny coffee machine and modern furniture, the inside is nothing like the outside.

These people and their small companies in shared offices live in a different world to many of the big money incorporations that Rotterdam is also home to. Yet if they look out the window they will see this very world as, for instance, some of Unilever’s many offices are a short two-minute walk away. Schieblock could have become one of these tall skyscrapers. In the 1990’s it was empty and ready for demolition as the local municipality wanted to tear it down to build four skyscrapers instead.

But then the company Zus (Zones Urbaines Sensibles) bought the building as they wanted to rent it out for a small amount of money in an attempt to revive it. The current price for one of these sought offices is 100 euros per month. Zus managed to create a hub and the block with its yellow pathway now connects different parts of the city just as the open offices connect small companies working in different fields.

It’s a “cool working place”, according to the people who are lucky enough to hold an office in Schieblock. With all different kinds of people working there, you cannot divide the building in different square meters. Everybody is working together. There are lots of collaborations within the office holders, as well as with different parts of the city that the yellow pathway connects Schieblock with. The local architecture school around the block has designed several things for Schieblock, for instance.

Because of all the collaborations and the creative and economical hub that Schieblock created, companies want to stay around. The way that small and big companies are empowering each others way of thinking and creativeness in this hub is special. Sometimes, it is almost working too good, companies become too big and have to leave the building. But then, they will be looking to have an office next to Schieblock, so that as a neighbour they can still be involved in the ecology.

Schieblock started as a temporary test of the municipality of Rotterdam, but now, after eighteen years, the offices still look as they did when the municipality wanted to tear it down. But the creativeness inside is enormous. It has become a permanent temporality.

Euroscope Series: The city of Rotterdam (NL)