Move over Copenhagen, Valencia, Budapest and Göteberg: The boldest food experience in Europe was inaugurated October 2 by Netherlands’ Queen Maxima – the shop-eat-live Markthal (Market Hall) in the historic Laurenskwartier, the pre-war center of Rotterdam, now Europe’s largest port city.
Markthal is a $175-million Euro collaborative venture of Provast development firm (The Hague) and the Dutch government for affordable housing. The design is by Rotterdam-based firm MVRDV, an architecture and urban planning firm, with a wide-ranging international clientele. The co-architect is INBO, Netherlands.
Initially the idea was to create two separate structures. Innovation came with visioning what MVRDVcalls a new building typology. They asked: “ Can we use this operation to evolve the market typology as well as densify the city center? and “Can we increase quality as well as density of programming?”
The result is a covered square which acts as a central market hall during the day and, after closing hours, remains lively with restaurants on its first floor.With its ample “public space” plus increased density, Markthal, says MVRDC,“is producing rather than consuming space.” The goal is to attract about 4.5-7 million visitors annually and help promote a bustling city center. Take a virtual tour
On what was originally farmland, Markthal is the happy result of two Dutch policies – to create safe indoor market space for fresh meat and fish (now a public policy) and improve affordable housing in Rotterdam. Markthal achieves both, but in a totally unconventional way.
Provast won first place in the 2004 project competition; project construction got underway in 2009. The ground floor has a length of about 120 meters and a width of 70 meters, the size of a large football pitch. The underground car park has a total of 1,200 spaces. Markthal is an energy efficient building and has been awarded a BREEAM “very good” rating.
The horseshoe shaped building is an immense space – some 110,000 square meters — that overlooks the city’s famed kubus houses by Piet Blom (Dutch for “polehouse/treehouse”) and the Blaak metro stop designed by Harry Reijnders. The front and back ends of the structure are covered with a flexible suspended glass façade in a network of pre-stressed steel cables – the largest example in Europe – in which the individual panels of glazing are hung.
The effect is spectacular: light pours in front to back. There is an unobstructed view to the modern landmark structures and unusual reflections of high-rises that create an indoor-outdoor effect. The façade is the largest of its kind in Europe and flexible to withstand heavy storms.
Layered around and over the horseshoe are apartments – a total of 228– that have generous natural lighting (a Dutch requirement) and many with balconies. The interior apartment walls and halls have small windows or floor panels that overlook the market hall itself. (Windows or a glass floor made of sound and smell proof triple glazing.) The apartments follow strict Dutch laws regarding natural day-light: all rooms that require natural light are situated on the outside. Apartments vary from 80 m² to 300 m², from two to five bedrooms.
Cathedral-like, the market interior soars to a height of 40 meters, but the church comparison doesn’t end here. An all-over digital mural – a food cornupcopia by Arno Coenen and Iris Roskam covers 11,000 square meters of ceiling and walls, with oversized berries, snow peas, avocados, fish, flowers, butterflies and insects streaming down like manna from heaven.
Technically, this is 21st century art: there are 4,000 aluminum panels (each 1.5 by 1.5 meters) imprinted with HD images; the plates are attached to acoustic panels that help muffle sounds. To achieve the high quality, the artists used Pixar software. Here’s a 360-degree panorama
On the market floor, it’s show-time — 100 fresh food stalls, from dedicated stalls for sausages, potatoes and mushrooms, to biologique meat, traiteur stands of prepared foods, Indonesian spices (a nod to Dutch history and trade) and a chocolate emporium, with solid cubes of hazelnut or dark chocolate standing like soldiers, ready to plunge into a steaming cup of hot milk for cocoa.
Want to grab a bite? Get a custom-brewed cup of coffee, beautiful pastry, lamb kabobs, tapas, and a lot more.
Florists are here too with artful displays of ready-made bouquets –the Dutch are, after all, world leaders in ornamental horticulture. A nice surprise: an Asian grocery store on the main level. If you need a pot or cooking accessory, there’s a full-scale retailer with kitchenware.
Below ground, several escalators down, there’s an Albert Heijn everyday supermarket, generous wine shop, and coat-bag check to store your stuff while shopping. A thoughtful addition: archeological items are displayed in closed windows as you descend, identifying what was churned up during the excavation. And, big surprise, further down are 1200 underground parking spaces for cars.
So what’s coming next ? The World of Taste, a center for education, information and innovation in the field of healthy eating, will open January 2015.
If you go: Rotterdam’s Markthal operates seven days a week, 9 am to 8 pm, with 100 fresh food market stalls, restaurants, and related food-wine retailers.
STAY TUNED: In coming weeks, Green News Update will showcase new buildings, museums, retrofits and amazing historic preservation efforts in the Netherlands and France.