Friday, November 2, 2012

The Cube Houses of Rotterdam!

Mr Tabubil and I have just returned from three weeks holiday – a week in Holland, so that I might see a bit of his country and meet his family, and two weeks together after that in Italy.  Right now we’re still in Holland.

Rotterdam is a different sort of city – the center was flattened during the Second World War, and afterwards, rather than doing a faithful rebuild, the city decided to go modern and modern-ist.  Accordingly, the city suffers from mid-century modern public-space-itis (big towers with very little of anything at the street level, and absolutely hopeless empty plazas) but this is continental Europe and Rotterdam makes it work anyway. 
            Perhaps it’s because- notwithstanding the general war-time flattening- the human scale of little brick houses is never far away, and the human scale spills sympathetically over into the new plazas?
            Or is it because in the Netherlands, space is so tight and precious that even the largest plazas are not built on the vast, ground-eating American scale?
            Or because there is a long-standing (where long-standing equals centuries) tradition of public space used as public space in these very spaces that overcomes the huge and empty space of them?
            We didn’t have time to puzzle it out (or pontificate, according to some viewpoints, thank you very much, Mr Tabubil.) We were going to visit a more recent exercise in architectural theorizing – the 1984 Cube Houses  of architect Piet Blom

The cube houses are a housing estate built as a forest of yellow cubes tilted 45 degrees off the vertical, standing on their noses like children’s Christmas trees on concrete trunks. They are dynamic and post-modern exciting and there isn’t a bad angle in the entire complex. 

One of the houses has been turned into a museum.  The layout is snug and as well plotted as the inside of a sailboat, with a living room and kitchen space on the lowest level, two bedrooms and a bath above, and a pyramid-shaped sun-room in the peak of the roof.   

Inside, the little houses are just as dynamic and exciting as on the outside, but the acute angles, sloped walls and tight corners leave them confined and claustrophobic – especially if you’re built on the traditional Dutch scale, ceiling high and husky. 
            Worse, the angled clearances leave this tightly-plotted space littered with unusuable voids and corners.  And the staircases and gangways can't possibly be designed to code in any universe – every one of them appears to be intended to tip you head-first into something sharp and skull-cracking.

A cube house would be entertaining for a weekend stay (another of the residences in the complex has been turned into a hostel, if you’re interested!) but any longer would drive most people demented.  If you are, however, slight of build, enjoy tight spaces and want to try out life in a Post-Modern monument, there are several residences for sale in the complex, at extremely reasonable prices!

When we’d had our fill of pointed corners, we went away and found more French fries.  And ate them sitting in the middle of a vast and empty plaza that someone had filled with up with flowerpots.  

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