On our drive from Amsterdam to Arras in France, we stopped in Rotterdam for a late breakfast. There’s a famous (in architecture circles) housing complex in the city center that I’ve long wanted to experience. Photos of the collection of apartments are striking and confounding: a bunch of yellow cubes that sit on their corners, all diagonal.

Our starting place was the central plaza of modern downtown Rotterdam: the Binnenrotte. This public space developed out of the near-complete destruction of Rotterdam’s center by German bombardments in World War II. Today, the Rotterdam Blaak transit station anchors the center of the plaza. Around the edges, you find the Centrale Library, a Starbucks of all things (a good place to grab a coffee and, more importantly, visit the toilets after the morning drive), and a dramatic covered market — more about that shortly….  

And the forest of Cubehouses. 

You can’t miss the yellow cubes. They sit atop more rough concrete than I expected. 

The architect of CubeHouses, Piet Blom, designed what he called a forest of tree houses. Construction finished in 1984. To fulfill the city’s objective of creating a safe connection between the Old Harbor and inner city neighborhoods — which are divided by a major traffic artery — Architect Piet Blom “furnished” the bridge with neighborhood elements. He was inspired by the Ponte Vecchio in Florence.

Once you take the steps up into the complex, you get the idea. It’s a village of homes.

It has its own pedestrian street, little shops, trees, sitting spots, and vistas out to the rest of Rotterdam. Probably the only problem for the residents is people like us: architectural and urban gawkers. 

Happily for us, one of the residents opens up his unit for visits. We, along with at least a dozen other folks, poked around the three levels of the apartment. Fascinating! It was like living in a boat. Lots of angles and curious squeezes of space. But bright views of the sky above and the town below. The treatment of the interior called from another era. It reinforced the fact that anyone who chooses to live in one of these units has a sense of adventure and a love of the unusual. From this short visit, in imagining living here, we immediately longed for some outdoor space like a little balcony or terrace. We think that the original idea was that the common spaces on the village street below, as well as the rest of the city right outside, provides that outdoor space. But the angled walls and spaces, while cozy, could feel claustrophobic after awhile.

Nonetheless, great fun to visit and imagine. The world is filled with bland conservative buildings. It’s a joy to experience some daring ones.

Across from the Cubehouses, a great glass-filled arch beckons — maybe.

The glass face of the arch looks like a big office building lobby. But when you get closer, you start to see a huge curved ceiling covered with color.

This is the Markthal. A combination of housing (in the “walls” of the arch) and covered enclosed public market, Markthal opened in 2014. Since our primary goal for this visit was to enjoy one last breakfast/brunch meal before our return to the land of croissants, jam and coffee, in we went.

The unusual shape of the building has certainly caught the public’s imagination, but the interior is also a delight. This where artist Arno Coenen created the Horn of Plenty, the biggest work of art in the world. Its bright colours cover an area of ​​11,000 m2, resulting in this creation now being known as Rotterdam’s very own Sistine Chapel. (source)

The market seems more geared to visitors like us, and to people looking for specialty foods and restaurants. There were some produce and meats and fish stands, but also a lot of sausage, cheese, dried fruits, even a peanut butter specialist. 

No matter; walking around, looking at the stands and up at the bright fruit and nature graphics on the vault, was great fun. We happened to visit on a bright spring day. There are many cold, gray days in Rotterdam, so the verve of floating strawberries, butterflies and pineapples must lift mid-winter spirits.

We didn’t quite find that brunch we were aiming for. Hunger degraded our ability to make wise decisions. We opted for a seafood banquet, almost all of which had just seen the deep frier. Oh well, we’re on vacation, right?

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