Question: Where in the world will you find a “forest” of man-made “trees” that double as a bridge, a museum, a hotel, and a neighborhood whose houses are only 75% furnished?
Answer: The Cube Houses of Rotterdam, the Netherlands
When innovative Dutch architect Piet Blom was invited to design a complex of houses in late 1970s Rotterdam, he didn’t envision a neighborhood like any that had ever been seen. Instead of typical houses, he created an abstract “forest” with the rooftops of the houses acting as treetops. These roofs are actually corners, for the houses are a series of cubes perched at a 45-degree angle atop concrete pillars.
For owners, the new units came with plenty of buzz but also some challenges. Occupants enter on the first floor, climb to the second to cook and entertain, and sleep on a third. The upper level—the treetops—can be used for little gardens. But none of the levels have straight walls; from the bottom, the walls fan outward to level two; from level three up, they narrow inward dramatically. Decorating for a home where almost no furniture can touch the walls is tricky—in fact, 25% of the 1,100-square-foot space is not usable at all.
The Cube Houses were an instant sensation and, soon enough, a tourist attraction. To sate curiosity about the interiors, a Show Cube Museum was opened in one of the units, and eventually a hotel turned two more into guesthouses for overnight stays. But for Rotterdammers, the best use has been as a pedestrian bridge: You can walk through the Cube Houses to the city center above a busy thoroughfare. While everyone else stops for the view, the locals can get where they’re going.
5 More Rotterdam Must-Sees
- Luchtstingel Bridge: Residents of northern Rotterdam got sick of waiting for the city to build a bridge to let them access the city center without dodging cars on the highway and crossing train tracks. They built their own bridge by crowdfunding the materials (every plank has the name of the person who paid for it) and the sleek, much-used bridge went on to win design competitions.
- The (Too-Sexy) Santa Statue: When Rotterdam commissioned sculptor Paul McCarthy for a new work to sit near the city orchestra hall, they didn’t expect the result: Santa holding a stylized pine tree that many found (to put it delicately) uncomfortably erotic. It was moved, unwanted, from location to location for four years until it found its current home on the Eendrachtsplein in 2008.
- The Giant of Rotterdam: 7’6” Rigardus Rijnhout wore size 29 shoes, ate five times as much as an average Dutchman, and used to rent himself out as a billboard. In his 36 years, he caught the imagination of his fellow Rotterdammers. When he was dying, he had to be lifted by crane to the hospital’s second floor where he could be treated. Sculptor Albert Jan Kramer created a life-sized 2011 tribute that honors him as a symbol of growth for the city and endurance in the face of challenge.
- The Euromast: Pretty it’s not, but the Euromast offers the best views of the city. The 540-foot concrete tower built in1960 was, at the time, the tallest building in the Netherlands. Though it is no longer tallest, it still boasts the highest outside viewing platform at 370 feet up and a rotating glass elevator at 600 feet for the vertigo-free crowd.
- Markthal: It would memorable enough to design a market hall in the shape of a massive horseshoe rising up from Grotemarkt square. But step inside the market hall and you discover one of the largest artworks on earth. “Cornucopia” is a mural covering the entire ceiling end to end: a whopping 36,000 square feet.
See what makes Rotterdam so distinctive when you join our Holland & Belgium in the Springtime River Cruise.