In many ways, Rotterdam’s a straightforward city. You can see this in the prosaic names of some of its main attractions. Het Park (the park). De Markthal (the market hall). But Het Park is a charming, elegant park whose plain title masks its prettiness. And De Markthal is a lively trading centre, of innovative design. It’s so much more than simply a market hall. The Rotterdam Cube Houses, which we visited in December, are a prime example of a matter-of-fact name masking an exciting concept.
What and where are the Cube Houses?
Piet Blom’s 1980s houses are exactly what their name suggests: houses shaped like cubes. But when we visited on a cold, grey winter morning, their bright pops of colour sang out against the functional concrete of the city’s flat, level streets. The Rotterdam Cube Houses were next to the Waterfront in the Laurenskwartier District. To me, these jaunty banana-coloured dwellings summed up Rotterdam in a nutshell. The town’s an exciting combination of functional spaces and straightforward transport systems, with cutting-edge, uber-cool urban design.
Piet Blom designed the Cube Houses in the late 1970s, and the last Cube House was finished in 1984. The complex of houses is sometimes called ‘Het Blaakse Bos’ – the Blaakse Forest, which includes the Cube Houses, as well as all the cafes and workspaces below. Now, all 38 cube homes are inhabited, with a €300k price tag on each one-bedroom dwelling. If this is a bit above your price range, you can spend the night for rather less money at the Cube Hostel Rotterdam, right in the centre of the Cube House village.
The cubes are set around a set of leafy courtyards. We travelled to Holland via the Stena Line ferry, and our 8am arrival at Hook of Holland allowed us to be in Rotterdam before 9am. At that time of day, we had the Cube House courtyards practically to ourselves. It was a good place to wander around, get our bearings, and make a plan for the day.
We peeked into some of the houses’ communal gardens, and imagined what life must be like there.
Inside the Cube House showhome
When he designed his innovative urban village, Piet Blom imagined the cluster of houses as a wood, with each individual residence being a tree. To enter your house, you climbed steep stairs up the tree’s ‘trunk’, or central pole. And inside, the rooms are open plan, in a circular layout around this central core. We experienced the room layout first-hand when we visited the Cube House showhome.
Each Cube House was 100m², and 400m³. To fit the unusual spaces, residents needed tailor-made furniture. The kitchen was made up of smoothly curved furniture, angled to the contours of the building. Crockery was neatly stacked. There was no room for clutter in this space.
The people living in the Cube Houses also needed to embrace open-plan living. In the show home, the bedroom and study space formed one curved living area. Because of the central ‘trunk’, it felt cosy, but you could still walk straight through from the office to the bedroom, without going through any doors.
The only door inside the place was in front of the bathroom – and that was made of glass (although this might have been just to show visitors what it looked like inside). The top floor of the show home was a beautiful low-ceilinged space, with circles of paint, and retro curves on the chairs, to contrast with the sharp angles of the walls. We were the first people to arrive at the CubeHouse that day, so we spent a good half hour on the top floor, chatting and reading our books.
What else is in the Cube House village?
Dwellings weren’t the only things to see in the Cube House village. There was a gift shop, a beautician, and a mysterious glass-fronted space, where about twenty people were sitting with VR headsets on. We also found a charming Chess Museum, with sets outside where you could just sit and play.
The museum was stuffed full of chess sets of different kinds, from angular, black-and-white modernist takes on the traditional King, Queen and Rooks, to a fairytale-inspired design, where the black pieces rode on butterflies, and the whites on kingfishers. A Super Mario set caught my son’s eye, while I enjoyed looking at wooden chess pieces in the shape of trolls (with toads for pawns). The chess sets were beautiful, and we could have spent a lot longer peering into the display cabinets in this carefully assembled collection.
But we only had one day in Rotterdam, so we headed off to De Markthal and lunch. You can read more about our day in Rotterdam here. We didn’t even cover half of the city’s attractions while we were there. But I’m glad we started with the Cube Houses.
Entry to the Cube House showhome is €3 per person. For more information about Piet Blom’s Cube Houses and other things to see and do in Rotterdam, visit the Rotterdam Tourist Information website.
Stena Line paid our expenses on this trip. All views are my own.