Hi Rise, I can see you!

Planning and visibility assessment of high building development in Rotterdam


  • Frank van der Hoeven TU Delft, Architecture and the Built Environment
  • Steffen Nijhuis TU Delft, Architecture and the Built Environment





West European cities like London, Paris, Rotterdam and Frankfurt am Main have seen impressive high-rise developments over the past two decades. The cities with a longstanding tradition of urban management, building regulations and zoning plans seem to feel the need for additional instruments to control the development of what is described by McNeill (2005) as "an extremely complex spatial phenomenon". It was only after the emergence of a new type of high building development in the inner cities and suburban centres in the early 1990s that the image of high buildings started to change for the better, not just in the Netherlands but also throughout much of Europe. Even now, high buildings evoke emotions and provoke controversies. This has led them to develop policies for regulating the planning and construction of tall buildings, high-rise buildings and skyscrapers within their territory.

This article presents a systematic approach for analysing the visual impact of high building development on a city and its surrounding region, using Rotterdam as a case study. This work is based on a previous analysis that included aspects such as architectural height, year of completion, location and functional use of high buildings in the city. It allowed us to compare the actual high building development with the urban policies in place. The showcase city of Rotterdam demonstrates that a considerable distance exists between policy and reality. The city struggles to deliver a consistent and integrated policy for high-rise urban areas, although the high building developments themselves seem to be ruled by a remarkable internal logic that is not fully recognised in policymaking. By studying the height and completion year, identifying the tall building cluster as it is perceived visually, and by conducting a GISc-based visibility analysis, it provides a context to tall building designs, making the assessment of individual projects more transparant and balanced, and removing some of the emotional elements that often enter into the discussions.

How to Cite

van der Hoeven, F., & Nijhuis, S. (2011). Hi Rise, I can see you! Planning and visibility assessment of high building development in Rotterdam. Research in Urbanism Series, 2, 277–301. https://doi.org/10.7480/rius.2.216



Author Biographies

Frank van der Hoeven, TU Delft, Architecture and the Built Environment

Associate professor of Urban Design at the Faculty of Architecture at the TU Delft (the Netherlands). He conducted his PhD research in the field of underground space technology and multifunctional and intensive land-use. The core of his work deals with urban design issues related to mixed-use development: transit-oriented development, urban greenhouse horticulture, the use of underground space, high-rise urban areas, and recently climate change. Currently he combines his associate professorship Urban Design with the position of Research Director of the Faculty of Architecture. Editor-in-Chief of the RiUS-series.

Steffen Nijhuis, TU Delft, Architecture and the Built Environment

Assistant professor of Landscape Architecture at the Faculty of Architecture, Delft University of Technology (the Netherlands). Initiator of this book. His PhD-research, entitled Landscape Architecture and GIS, focuses on the application of Geographic Information Science in landscape architectonic research and design. The core of his work deals with theories, methods and techniques in the field of landscape architecture and urban design: design research, research by design, visual landscape assessment and visual knowledge representation. He is leader of the research programme Architecture and Landscape, series editor of RiUS and advisor to governmental and regional authorities in the Netherlands.


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