Rotterdam’s Cube Houses (& Rotterdam market, Old Harbor & The White House, Europe’s first Skyscraper)

In Rotterdam a particularly interesting quarter has emerged in a previously desolate and neglected area. It is the area of the old harbor at Blaak. First there came a new station with a beautiful design, a library in the style of Center Pompidou, the harbor became a favorite terrace place, and most notably, there arose a complex of cube houses, houses on stilts resembling trees and jointly forming a forest.

Piet Blom

The cube houses in Rotterdam are 38 cube-shaped pile houses and 13 business cubes. They were conceived by the architect Piet Blom. The houses were built between 1982 and 1984, after a first presentation of the plans in 1978. Piet Blom’s design is a variant of the Helmond cube house in a slightly larger grid. The cube houses are built in the form of a tilted cube on a pole, and are also known as a pile house or tree house.  The viaduct on one high is officially called the Overblaak, but the entire complex is known as the Blaakse Bos.

Dennis Callan explored the entire quarter.

Dennis Callan:

Rotterdam, outdoor market, Cube Houses and Old Harbor. Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, has the nation’s largest outdoor market and next to it are the Cube Houses, unusual apartments in the shape of cubes standing on a point, tilted over by 45 degrees, very curious. Next to that is the Old Harbor, Oude Haven, a popular gathering place with terrace restaurants along the shore of a harbor first built in the 14th century.

Outdoor market

The outdoor market a popular shopping place for locals as well, who pick up a lot of their fresh produce here, this and you can buy lunch at a price that’s going to be lower than your typical restaurant. Because it gets so crowded it makes a great place for people-watching, with customers of all ages and national origin in this cosmopolitan city. Open from 9 to 5 Tuesdays and Saturdays. If you want to avoid the crowd get here early or come at the end of the afternoon. It will be worthwhile no matter when you can make it.

Public park & Library

Next to it alongside the Markthal is a very popular outdoor public park, especially when you’re here on a Saturday and families can gather together, workers have the day off, and it’s just a holiday atmosphere, with the medieval Church of St. Lawrence in the background. In the other direction, the white building is the Rotterdam Central Library, one of the city’s best architectural curiosities. A six-story cascading façade with industrial design and angular yellow tubes makes it one of the most controversial buildings in the city. It contains half a million books in open stacks and one of the biggest record libraries in Europe. It’s a multipurpose structure with a theater, a bookstore, there’s Internet terraces on the first and top floors, and lecture halls and there’s a café that sometimes has live music.

The Cube Houses

Adjacent, the Blaak Tower design by Piet Blom, who also designed the Cube Houses next door, which is where we’re going next. These cubes are actually apartments that people live in. Each is tipped up on a point, tilted at a crazy angle of about 45°. Inside, the floors are horizontal and yet the walls are all at an angle. It’s efficient, using very little ground area while creating living space up above in a striking design.

A pedestrian bridge

From Google Earth we can see how it’s located on a bridge straddling eight lanes of a busy highway, another aspect of how it’s efficiently using space that might have been otherwise unoccupied. It also serves as a pedestrian bridge to help you get across the road, and yes it’s open free to the public. You’re welcome to come on in, walk through, have a look around. There are some exhibits in one of the houses, you can pay a few euros if you want to go inside, but otherwise it’s splendid from the outside. Or you could rent a room. There are some vacation rentals, a little hotel operation and a youth hostel, and a few shops, along with the condominiums of the permanent residence, some of whom have lived here since it first opened 30 years ago.

40 apartments

Constructed out of wood, the architect Piet Blom envisioned each unit as a tree and altogether functioning like a forest. There are 40 apartments here, each with about 1000 ft.² of floor area, but only 1/4 of that space is actually usable because of all the sharp angles of the walls, and it’s generally squeezed up into three floors with narrow staircases connecting them. That’s the price one pays for living inside a most unusual work of art.

The Old Harbor

It’s in a great location between those markets and the Old Harbor, which is a picturesque part of Rotterdam that harkens back to the old days, unlike most of this modern city. From the cubes you can walk right down a gentle ramp that will lead you to this lovely restaurant terrace area right along the water’s edge. You can see what a popular place this is for eating and drinking, easy to reach from the cubes, but curiously from the street, there’s only a small sign. You might even miss the entrance.

Terraces

You have to know where you’re going to get down here to the water. The harbor is bordered by buildings with the restaurants and terraces so there is no expansive view from the street, but there are some openings and you’ll find it. Then you can walk along a nice promenade on the edge of the harbor. Walk around to the other side and get some great views looking back at the cubes and the terrace restaurants.

This neighborhood is one of the most vibrant and popular places to be for eating, drinking, and to meet up with your friends and make some new ones, a fine example of urban planning and development.

Boating

Recreational boating is always popular in the Netherlands and there are some commercial tours of the harbor on larger boats that we will show you in a different video. We upload a new movie every week so please subscribe to our channel and click that little alarm bell so you will be notified and if you enjoyed the movie, how about thumbs up and we always welcome comments down below.

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