Tag: Rotterdam

Story of the week: A night of sustainable clubbing in Rotterdam, Holland


* Image from www.sustainabledanceclub.com

Midnight in Rotterdam and the city is exploding into life.

The bikes are stacked four deep outside the opening-night party at nightclub WATT, located between a rain-lashed public park and a fast-food Asian restaurant on a gritty downtown avenue.

A shaven-headed bouncer checks the guest list and twitching teenagers gabble into their mobile phones. Tonight WATT looks the archetypal cool new venue for Rotterdam’s hedonistic clubbers, who power the city’s reputation as the European capital of electronic music.

But, behind the scenes, WATT has another agenda as the trailblazer for the green-clubbing movement.

Run according to sustainable principles, it sets out to reduce energy consumption by 30 per cent, water consumption and waste production by 50 per cent compared to a typical dance venue.

Green power

Earlier that night I have an exclusive preview of the club before the punters arrive.

Entering from the boulevard-style reception, it comprises four main sections: the main hall with capacity for 1500 clubbers, a more intimate, jet-black basement for 300, two relax roofs with chill-out space for smoking (banned this summer in Holland) amongst ferns and plants, and the Lulu Café with 20 covers at street level and an all-day menu.

Green initiatives include a rainwater-flush system for toilets, renewable energy sources and LED lighting, and a zero-waste bar serving organic drinks in recycled plastic cups.

The key feature, however, is the energy-generating dancefloor in the basement, whereby the movement of the dancing clubbers is converted into electricity by an electro-magnetic generator under the floor.

By midnight the club is heaving with a heady cocktail of hardcore clubbers awaiting a set by Paris-based Teenage Bad Girl, a multi-cultural mix of local teenagers attracted by the broad music policy from techno to R ‘n B, and curious locals who remember the club’s former incarnation as a venue for gigs by Underworld and Johnny Cash.

As I hit the dancefloor, busting my best moves in the sweaty basement, the sound of Euro trance pumps from the sound system.

When a MC dressed as a hip-hop nun, rapping the words “Hallelujah” over the beat while two DJs with towering afros deftly work the decks, the gauge at the side of the dancefloor glows green, indicating that the up-for-it crowd on the dancefloor have pushed power levels to maximum.

“I like the idea of a green club but I’m here more for the cool design and great music,” says Rotterdam-based multi-media design student, Tarona Leonora. “I wouldn’t come if it was just a green club.”

“But the way you can make a difference to climate change by coming clubbing here is, well, pretty cool.”

Sustainable living

I first came to Rotterdam when WATT was still a series of architectural drawings.

In rabbit-hutch offices behind a petrol station on the fringe of town, I joined Stef van Dongen, Director of green-entrepreneur consultancy Enviu, to peruse the blueprints for the world’s first venue to use the Sustainable Dance Club (SDC) concept he devised.

He spoke of enlisting clubbers as the foot soldiers of a new sustainability movement that combined youth culture with a commitment to sustainable living.

Things have clearly changed since our last meeting when, the next morning, I head across town to Enviu’s new open-plan offices, the bass-driven thud of deep house still ringing in my ears.

Inside water bottles hang like recycled chandeliers and cartoon-style murals sprawl across the bare walls. In keeping with the company’s green ethos of ‘upcycling’, old water cooler refills have been turned into a recycled filing cabinet.

“Around 130 clubs and festivals, including ones in New York, Cape Town and Sao Paolo, are interested in being direct customers of the SDC project; a larger group have taken the idea but are going it alone in developing the technology,” says Stef as we sip coffee in Enviu’s office, a bevy of young, green-savvy entrepreneurs busily answering phones and preparing presentations around us.

“With the first club now open in Rotterdam we hope to foster competition nature between clubs around the world.”

“When a new and more sustainable club opens, the others all have to play catch up,” adds Stef, whose next project is to send a flotilla of green-fuel hybrid tuk tuks to Indian in early 2009.

Hard cash

Rotterdam Council chipped in €200,000 to WATT’s total €5m cost as part of its affiliation to the Clinton Climate Initiative to accelerate greenhouse gas emissions reductions, while the European Union contributed €450,000 to stimulate cultural events in the city.

But does hard economic reality of running WATT as a business really live up to the pre-launch green hype?

After all, at present the 60m sq dancefloor only generates 300 watts of power – just enough to light up the coloured LEDs set into the floor tiles.

Professor Han Brezet of the Delft University of Technology, who patented and designed the energy-generating dancefloor in collaboration with Enviu, is sanguine.

“The opening of WATT is just a small step and the technology still has a long way to go,” he says. “But I think WATT will make a big difference in the context of changing mindsets.”

“I’m a scientist,” he smiles, “but also an optimist.”

What did you think of this story? Post your comments below.

This article was first published in The Guardian in 2008.

Liked this? Try also A winter warmer at Rotterdam’s best cafe.

A winter warmer at Rotterdam’s best cafe


* I’ve been away in Rotterdam for my first assignment of the year. I’ll be posting some personal asides from the commissions during these trips. This is the first.

Follow me on Twitter, or subscribe to the RSS, for weekly updates from my travel-writing archive in the year to come.

I met an old friend again last week.

It’s been a few years since I was last in Rotterdam but they hadn’t aged a day.

Dudok, my favourite Rotterdam café, is buzzing with the gentle hum of chatter and the delicate clink of coffee cups – even at 4pm on a wintery Monday.

Located in the central-north Laurenskwartier, Dudok is named after the architect Willem Dudok, who designed the imposing building with its Art Deco-style facade [pictured above].

Inside, three giant photos of local businesses and a cast-iron, retro clock above the door dominate the high-ceilinged room.

I pull up a chair at the central reading table and peruse the rack of magazines, choosing between an Arcade Fire interview in Oor magazine and Trent Reznor on Johnny Cash in the latest copy of Electronic Beats.

Across the way, a group of ladies at leisure are tucking into the high tea of sandwiches and patisserie.

Nearer me, several bearded, intellectual types are stroking their chins while pouring over the politics sections of the daily newspapers.

At the other end of the reading table, a multiple-pierced student looks to be finishing her college assignment while riding the free Wi-Fi.

As dark clouds gather outside over the tram-lined boulevards, I happily work my way along the shelf of Euro pop-culture magazines over cups of milky coffee.

But, also, I love the traditional Dutch apple pie, served warm with cinnamon ice cream. The mix of crumbly pastry and soft filling, tinged with cinnamon and spiced with plump raisons, is as classy as I remember it.

The food even comes with a little edible label: “Dudok original.”

For a traveller alone in the city, Dudok feels like home.

Do you have a favourite bolt hole in Rotterdam? Or can you recommend another place-visit place in Holland? Post below.



Rotterdam tourism

Visit Holland

Story of the week: Eco-clubbing in Rotterdam


* This is the third post in a new weekly series, highlighting old stories from my travel-writing archive. I’m running them here in full. Subscribe to this blog for more.

The opening night at Catwalk and the dancefloor is heaving. A jazz saxophonist plays a solo beyond the soft-leather booths of the bar while the DJ booth on wheels is pushed towards the back wall to open up more space for clubbers keen to throw a few shapes.

Formerly a pedestrian underpass converted into a seal-in, subterranean club, this was once the domain of rubbish and dirty needles. Today it’s home to Rotterdam’s beautiful crowd sipping mojitos and grooving to urban soul tunes. It’s also the latest opening among the city’s new breed of eco-clubs recycling old public spaces for cool new nightlife.

Rotterdam is already Holland’s premier clubbing city with 10,000 revellers regularly hitting the dancefloor each weekend to catch house and electronica sets by local DJs, such as Speedy J and Michel de Hey.

Every summer, around 400,000 people attend the Heineken Fast Forward Dance Parade, Rotterdam’s answer to Berlin’s Love Parade. But, more importantly, Rotterdam is the first European city to embrace the idea that clubbing can be a means to promote sustainability.

“Rotterdam is a great breeding ground for sustainable projects as it has a young population and a culture of collaboration between different groups,” says Michel Smit, founder of the Rotterdam Electronic Music Festival, held annually in November. “People want to go out but not be lectured about how to live their lives. By making sustainability cool, we can get the message across to a wider audience.”

Across town in the Delfshaven area, the people behind Worm, a multi-purpose arts space with a club, arthouse cinema, record shop and creative studio, are busy organising a new gallery event. I’m met at the door by Mike van Gaasbeek, an erstwhile squatter turned eco-visionary with an electric-shock hairstyle and a business card that reads ‘Chef de ping ping’ (that’s Dutch slang for ‘cash’).

“We opened in November 2005 with a plug-and-play construction to slot into disused, empty buildings using 90 per cent recycled materials and without even knocking in a single nail,” he grins.

Today, when people go clubbing at Worm, the walls are recycled from old estate agents’ boards, the toilets from old oil drums and the door handles from old bicycle handlebars. The only non-recycled items are the fire safety doors and emergency exit signs.

“This is the piece de resistance,” says Mike, ushering me into the cinema. The room is filled with car seats recycled from old Volkswagen Passat vehicles. “Really comfy,” he winks.

What will really put Rotterdam on the map as the green clubbing capital of Europe, however, is a project called the Sustainable Dance Club. From a nondescript office block in a leafy suburb of the city, developers Enviu are drawing up a masterplan to take eco-clubbing to the world.

The project is the brainchild of Stef van Dongen, who founded Enviu as a community of young professionals to facilitate start-ups based on environmental principles. Working in collaboration with architects Doll and Professor Han Brezet of the Delft University of Technology, he unveiled the project at Rotterdam’s Off-Corso nightclub last October.

The company has allocated a budget of €550,00 to prepare a small-scale dancefloor as a test project for an existing club venue. They then hope to take the template to major European festivals, such as Roskilde in Denmark and Glastonbury in the UK.

“A nightclub uses 150 times the energy of an average household and produces around 12,000l of glass to recycle from bottles and glasses each weekend,” says Stef. “I was out clubbing one night when the idea came to me to make a self-sustaining club that is mobile to plug into existing spaces.”

“At the launch we had intelligent LED lighting systems, rainwater-flush toilets, a water purification system to turn urine into drinking water (a brand new water treatment system developed for the project), a café using recycled food (they use leftovers from the previous night to make vegetarian-friendly burgers and stir fries) and an electricity-generating dancefloor, whereby the more people dance, the more energy they produce,” adds Alijd van Doorn, Doll’s social architecture project manager.

There are currently three pilot dancefloors in development, each using different technology to generate energy. The finished product could work according to pneumatics, mechanical or sensory principles.

“This is not recycling, it’s upcycling,” says Stef. “It’s about finding ways for consumption to generate positive benefits via the interaction between clubbers and the club itself.”

Back at the Catwalk opening party, the dancefloor is a seething mass of designer labels and vodka cocktails. Former record company executive turned club owner Raymond Contein sinks into one of the womb-like booths against the black-and-silver, dragon-design wallpaper and smiles.

“We’ve recycled a dirty space to give people a place to enjoy themselves,” he says.

“Now that’s what I call green clubbing.”

* This is the original story in a series of pieces I wrote about green clubbing Rotterdam. It appeared in the Guardian in 2007. Read the original Reclaim The Beats; read the follow-up story, The Power of Dance.