MVDRV responds to an Icon reader’s questions about living in and cleaning its building in Rotterdam
Upon reading our article about MVRDV’s Markthal in Rotterdam, one reader pondered the difficulties of cleaning such a building and what it would be like to live in it:
“I have always wondered how people who live here would think and feel. Would they feel they were returning home or to an icon? How would they arrange the furniture?
“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?
“I wonder if it’s easy or difficult to clean, both from inside and outside. I wonder if architects have to ever think about such things.”
We put these questions to the architect and got 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