Rotterdam is known for skyscrapers and modern architecture. Now, a new masterplan promises to transform an underused harbor site into an urban green space for a neighborhood that could really use more parks. The Nelson Mandela Park is a welcome addition to Rotterdam’s South Maashaven district, a historic grain port.

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aerial rendering of park near harbor

SWA/Balsley is the creative force behind the new park. The design company completed its masterplan for the Nelson Mandela Park this spring. The park cleverly blends in with Rotterdam’s flood defense levee along its east side and aligns with a new levee promenade beside a nearby commercial boulevard.

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diagram of green park near harbor
drawing of park near a harbor

Rotterdam has long attracted immigrants, and many people have moved into this post-industrial harbor area in recent years. While the city’s neighborhoods are divided along socioeconomic lines, Rotterdam city planners are trying to devise ways to improve social cohesion and reduce segregation. The designers at SWA/Balsley came up with a park design that they think will appeal to a diverse population of everyday visitors. The new park will benefit from foot traffic, but it also connects with public transit, including a water taxi station. City officials hope that the park will spur future development in this vibrant neighborhood.

map with highlighted space to depict where new park will go near Rotterdam harbor
map of park in Rotterdam

The Nelson Mandela Park masterplan balances history and the future by embracing Rotterdam’s maritime culture — Rotterdam is Europe’s largest port — while looking ahead to benefiting future generations. The plan envisions a “Culture Campus” that will make Nelson Mandela Park stand out from others. The 7-hectare site will include marsh habitats, naturalized shoreline, groves of trees and lawns for playing and relaxing on. Park-goers will enjoy views of the harbor and the historic Maassilo building, which was once a hugely productive factory for the Rotterdam Granary Company. Now, it houses shared business spaces for creatives and a large event space.

+ SWA/Balsley

Images via SWA/Balsley