The Curious Cubic Houses Of Rotterdam
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In 1977 Piet Blom got an assignment to study the area around the Old Port, which lay fallow since World War II. The development plan called for a high density urban living combined with other functions. The architecture had to be playful and was intended for the less well off. In the late seventies the progressive city council, installed 1974, gave priority to social housing and the revitalization of downtown.
The Amsterdam Provo architect Piet Blom (1934-1999) worked for years on the ‘Living as urban roof’ plan. . It is living in high density on a high level, so the ground remains available for various urban activities. Blom previously realized the Kasbah Hengelo(1973) and several cube houses and a theater in Helmond (1976). Blom thought that a plan for the Old Port was viable only if – a pedestrian bridge over the busy Blaak street would be build, so this area would be linked to the market and the library. The bridge would be like a Ponte Vecchio and enlivened by houses and shops. The cube houses form a canopy over the pedestrian bridge.
Three days before the first pole was driven in the ground, the client withdrew. In an amended plan of the original 55, only 38 cube houses were realized. To compensate, a residential tower was built, called the “Pencil.” Later Blom also designed the buildings around the Old Port, a social housing estate with 250 houses combined with cafes and restaurants along the quay. The whole was realized in a high density and Mediterranean forms.
Tree or Pole house
The cube houses, also called tree or pole house, consists of a tilted wooden cube with a point on a concrete hexagonal core. In this core the entrance and the stairwell are located. The cube has three levels: the “street house” with kitchen and living room, the “heavenly house” with the bedrooms and the “leaf hut” at the top. The core walls are the only vertical walls you’ll find, the rest of the walls are slanted.
Bridge The area around the Old Port, partly due to the excellent orientation to the sun, has become a popular entertainment center for tourists and students. Despite this rush, this has not led to much liveliness and activity in the public space underneath the cube dwellings. The small shops were impractical. They were soon replaced by workshops and small businesses who do not have to rely on visitors. A resounding success is the Museum Cube House, a cube as a museum house attracts many tourists.
The houses were renovated in the late nineties, including the public space. In particular, the replacement of the asphalt shingles on the roofs by a zinc roof has changed its appearance. For the two large cubes it proved hard to find a destination. The Academy of Architecture took residence in one cube in 1985. After the departure of the Academy and a few years of vacancy a perfect new destination was found in 2009: a hostel Stayokay. There are 49 rooms with 250 beds and private bathrooms. In the central atrium, with lift, a landmark ‘interior cube’ is hung. The interior is designed by Personal Architecture in collaboration with Kees van Lamoen.
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