Project MVRDV
Photos Ossip van Duivenbode
Text Matteo Vercelloni

In 2004 the municipality of Rotterdam announced an architecture competition calling for the invention of a new functional formula to combine a sheltered market for fresh produce with a residential complex, in an unprecedented single constructed organism.

Out of the six groups invited to develop an architectural project, the winner was Provast with MVRDV. Opened in January, the Markthal is a building with high levels of energy efficiency, certified by the BREEAM ‘very good’ rating. The design approach to the theme is based on the idea of a tunnel, a large galleria open at the ends towards the surrounding landscape, with a length of 120, width of 70 and height of 40 meters. This is unquestionably a new landmark, an iconic building that goes beyond sculptural or self-referential gestures to reflect an archetype in the world of infrastructures, shifting the theme of the tunnel and the arch into an urban context to create the great vault of the covered market. On ground level visitors find the colors and aromas of 96 stands selling fresh foods. The lateral spaces contain the structural supports, as well as retail stores on the ground and first floors, along with restaurants and cafes that make the large market a gathering place for the life of the city. The residential part, organized in the thickness of the arch, is divided into 102 rental units and 126 owned apartments, joined by 24 attic residences, with a range of sizes from 80 to 300 square meters. In compositional terms, the openings of the residential cells become regular elements that transform the monolithic, compact surface of the tunnel into a porous architectural skin, penetrated by windows and loggias on all sides. The exterior, ends and vault are cut by the rhythm of the openings, which make the building lively and mutable thanks to the lights inside the apartments, revealing the presence of the life inside. The stone material used for the exterior and the pavements provides a vivid contrast with the treatment of the vault, featuring a very colorful project by the artists Arno Coenen and Iris Roskam, who on the entire available surface of 11,000 m2 have created the mural ‘Cornucopia,’ the largest work of its kind ever made in the Netherlands. The big mural is the result of a level of definition similar to that of a glossy magazine, done with high-resolution printing on microperforated aluminium panels with acoustic insulation. Made with Pixar software, the naturalistic macro-graphics combine the images of the products that can be purchased at the stands in a dizzying weave of figures and colors, evoking the memory of the works of the Dutch Masters of the 1700s, thanks to the large flowers, tulips and insects that populate the surface. In the evening the large lit mural stands out from the glass openings of the tunnel as a point of reference; it is the soul of the place, the spirit of an experimental, innovative project that invents an architectural typology for the new millennium.