On Sunday the 8th of March - International Women’s Day! - we visited the RVS flat, a post-war housing project built specifically for working, unwed women. And it was designed by a woman too: Wilhelmina Catharina Maria Jansen. We organised this excursion together with Carolina Quiroga, an architect and professor at the University of Buenos Aires and University of Belgrano as well as founder of LINA. Besides this she is doing a PhD on Heritage and Gender with Wilhelmina Jansen as the main study case. We also met up withAnita Heijkoop, an extremely engaged resident of the flat who researched its history and (together with Jacco Bakker) published an insightful book about it: “De RVS flat in Rotterdam: schone beloning voor vasthoudendheid”.
With a group of fifteen Urbanistas we arrived at the RVS flat, fittingly located on the Suze Groeneweglaan. In the lobby of the building Carolina gave us a brief presentation about Wilhelmina Jansen and the RVS flat. She graduated from the Technical College in Delft in 1931, as one of only very few women. Besides working as an architect, she was also active in several women’s organisations and member of the VAC (“Vrouwen Advies Commissie te Rotterdam”: the Women’s advice committee"), an organisation that advised the municipality on housing issues. Although it was built in 1956, since 1938 RVS flat was driven by the Rotterdam Women's Center Foundation, which sought equitable access of single women to social housing. Anita also shared with us some great stories about the residents of the flat and its rich history.
We continued on a tour of the building as we discovered its many unique details and all its inventive practicalities. The airy stairwell flooded in natural light with its balcony-like landings, alternating every floor; the partly underground storage units with their little windows; each apartments’ own delivery hatch for the grocer to leave their goods; the planned shed for gardening tools that unfortunately never got realised; the small space reserved specifically for the trash bins; and, of course, the magnificent view of Rotterdam’s skyline from the landing on the top floor.
We explored the exhibition in the stairwell, a beautiful collection of some of the RVS flat’s residents, their homes and their stories. For example how Mevrouw van Nimwegen, who was one of the first residents and has lived in the flat for over fifty years, still remembers the incredible feeling of finally having her very own front door when moving in at age 44.
Then Anita kindly welcomed us into her home and showed us around. We studied the prints of Wilhelmina Jansen’s drawings for the flat as Anita explained the original layouts to us. The apartments, though very compact with their 50 m2, are efficiently designed and full of creative solutions for storage, washing facilities, circulation and even window cleaning. Though primarily practical in design, the highly specific details and some pleasant eccentricities give these homes their unique character.
After inspecting each corner, tile and door handle, we ended the day discussing our discoveries over beers and coffees. It was a very informative and enjoyable visit (thanks to our two wonderful hosts!) and a really great opportunity to visit this often forgotten icon. We hope to see you all again on our next excursion!