MVRDV’s Markthal 15.01.15

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Eleven storeys of housing arch over a market with 100 stalls

Ten years in the making, MVRDV's grand gesture in its home city wraps a grey slab of housing around a tasty filling

Rotterdam holds an unofficial title as the architecture capital of the Netherlands, a result of the widespread urban renewal that followed the destruction of its inner city during the Second World War. Lately, that status has led to the city being touted as a "must-visit" destination, partly thanks to its ever-expanding list of landmark projects by the who's who of Dutch architecture. In October, Market Hall (or Markthal in Dutch), a combination of housing and food market by MVRDV, joined that roster.

It's familiar territory for MVRDV, which, like Rem Koolhaas's OMA, is based in the city. "Rotterdam constantly changes its urban ideals," says MVRDV principal Winy Maas. "To keep up with that during the ten-year process from competition to realisation was a challenge."

The building's location at the south end of the wide Binnenrotte boulevard puts it at the crossroads of local architecture and planning following wildly different principles: it's in the company of Piet Blom's iconic cube dwellings from the mid-80s, Carel Weeber and Jaap Bakema's high-tech central library, Hans Kohllhoff's neo-traditional housing towers, a sleek staggered office block by KCAP, and a steel and glass flying saucer that leads to the Blaak underground station.


The inside of the arch is printed with a painting by Arno Coenen and Iris Roskam

Market Hall dominates this incoherent urban fabric. An eleven-storey arch of 238 apartments draws the public into its huge barrel vault with an explosion of colour. Like a postmodern version of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, the interior is adorned with supersized vivid paintings of fruit, vegetables and flowers – a contemporary cornucopia by artists Arno Coenen and Iris Roskam.

On its floor the huge building houses 100 stalls, and in its flanks 15 food shops, eight restaurants and a cookery school. The apartments above look directly onto the market, and although windows on this side can't be opened, the architects have managed to conceal vents in the joints of the artwork's 4,500 aluminium panels. Small perforations in the panels help to absorb excess noise, allowing an interchange between the life of the market and the residents without each being troubled by the other's presence.

Clad in grey stone, the exterior of the building merges with the pavement and the often-murky sky. Along its sides, the facade's modulation soberly follows the layout of the apartments within and the fenestration – set back, in places deep enough to accommodate loggias – adds depth to this behemoth.


The Marthal at night

Maas's aim was to densify the area, constructing more taller buildings that "embrace this inner city airstrip and turn it into a contemporary equivalent of a main street or plaza." Whether the addition of another statement piece to this playground of icons does that is not yet clear, though possible development of an empty plot to the north might help better define the public space. Market Hall also half-stands on a small pedestal, counteracting the idea of a seamless transition between building and public space.

However the glitches don't detract from an intelligent and above-all beautiful exercise in the firm's experimental "building-as-diagram" ethos. It's a magnificent and rather clever thing, if a little awkwardly positioned. Maas says the process of realising such a singular vision as "taking a logical approach, being argumentative, clear, seductive and convincing" – a description that could applied to the building itself.

Interview: Winy Maas on high density living



Peter Smisek

quotes story

Market Hall half-stands on a small pedestal, counteracting the idea of a seamless transition between building and public space.



  • Comment Link Icon Monday, 26 January 2015 12:53 posted by Icon

    We put Sarover's questions (below) to MVRDV and received this response:

    “Interesting question and once which is hardly ever posed. Yes we do: we discuss and plan the cleaning in great detail. It is a constant factor to be dealt with in our designs. In the Netherlands in particular we have a strict law concerning safety and window cleaning. During the construction of our Book Mountain in Spijkenisse, a building featuring a big glass roof over a pyramid-shaped library, the law changed. It was going to be cleaned twice a year by mountain climbers on hooks and ropes, but after an 80-year-old neighbour’s objections the construction process was slowed down by a few years, and we were suddenly faced with the new legislation on window cleaning. Because of the legislation, we had to add sets of stairs on rails running around the glass roof.
    “At Markthal we dealt with these laws from the very beginning. Inside the hall is a bridge-like cleaning installation that reaches the big glass facades from the inside. It’s a great experience to float on this thing as it moves through the space – the cleaners have an incredible view. Underneath this bridge is a smaller cabin that can dock onto hidden rails in the art piece to clean the windows in the arch and the aluminium panels of the art piece itself. This was really important because a lot of cooking and barbecuing goes on in the market beneath. The external glass facade can be cleaned with a platform and the apartments – which feature floor-to-ceiling windows facing away from the market – have wide balconies so each window can be cleaned from the outside. The external windows in the apartments at each end of the building open inwards and can be cleaned by the inhabitants themselves. The market’s floor is natural stone, so it’s easy to clean without any special apparatus.
    “We hope that people feel at home in Markthal, because that is really the essential quality of a residential building. We designed the homes with furniture inside, imagining how the spaces would be used in the course of everyday life – in various options and for different lifestyles, empty-nester, family or single loft. We do this in our buildings all over the world, and we often ask people how they want to live in them. We found out that people from India live in a totally different way from Chinese or Dutch families and so we design different kinds of apartments for different countries.
    “The homes in Markthal are comfortable and half of them have a nice extra: windows facing into the market. It really makes you part of the action, without smelling it or hearing it of course. We even organised it so that supply and distribution to the market is underground to make it less noisy for the inhabitants, and so that there are no white vans delivering at ground level. Some of the apartments have a patio with a glass floor facing directly down into the market, or windows looking in at such an angle that you could put your pillow next to them and observe the market from your bed. Only half of the people who visited the apartments would want to live like this, but that is perfect – we are all different and so we deserve to have different homes according to our needs and desires.
    “If I lived there, I would put my dining table at the window and enjoy the bustling activity, the art and the contact with the neighbours across the hall.”

    Jan Knikker, head of business development, MVRDV

  • Comment Link Nikki Vieler Saturday, 17 January 2015 11:30 posted by Nikki Vieler

    I am not convinced that it is a beautiful or wonderful building. I find it rather dull and monotonous. The facade is dull, the painting is not exciting and the shape is not particularly exciting either. I wouldn't tear it down, but I would definitely rearrange or redesign it and repaint the inside. I find the painting on the inside rather dull and bland. Nice that it's got colour, but in my opinion it's a poor for of mimesis that can be considered enlightening, but I do not. I didn't expect a Michelangelo either, but this is dull. I had hoped for a more ambitious painting. I hope that more Rotterdammers like it, but I don't.

  • Comment Link Sarover Thursday, 15 January 2015 13:41 posted by Sarover

    Even though I am taken by the magnanimity of this buildings, and its aspects of cold metal and glass reflecting this amazing shimmer of life and colour.
    I have always wondered, how people who live here, would think and feel of it. How the design would make them feel, would they feel they were returning home,
    or to an icon, how would they be arranging the furniture. in some sense think of the binary of a mundane everyday life, which would also be heart of this magnificent
    piece of architecture.
    I have always wondered how such buildings are maintained ? Having seen some of the glass facade buildings in Bombay, India and the workers who are employed to keep their sheen alive. In India, there is more dust than Europe, and it surely adds to the long hours of work and cleaning that have to spend on buildings such as these.
    Also, i wonder if its easy or difficult to clean, both from inside and outside? I wonder if architects have to ever think about such things?


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