Care for a side of ferociously modern architecture with your tijgerbrood, wortels and gouda?

You’ll find just that at Markthal Rotterdam a gastronomical big top of elephantine proportions that was christened by a toque-clad Queen Máxima of the Netherlands at a grand opening ceremony held earlier this month.

Inspired by the iconic enclosed food halls found in cities like Barcelona and Copenhagen, the 312,000-square-foot indoor market is a first for the Netherlands. And what a first it is. Resembling a Goliath-sized horseshoe with formidable magnetic pull, the cavernous stone and glass edifice rises 12 stories above Rotterdam's famed market square, Binnenrotte, in the trendy Laurens district.

Five years in the making, Markthal was designed by the hometown heroes/playful urban futurists at sustainability-minded architecture firm MVRDV.

Bookmarked by giant suspended glazed glass facades (likened to a tennis racket by MVRDV, the steel cable net facades are the largest in Europe), this behemoth of a building is bursting at the seams with fresh produce, baked goods, fish, meat, cheese and, of course, flowers. In all, shoppers can shop/sample/salivate at 100 individual vendor stalls, more than a dozen specialty food shops, eight restaurants and cafes and a full-on supermarket located in the basement.

Reads the Markthal website:

Some one hundred fresh produce units will form the heart of Markthal Rotterdam. There is space for approximately sixty entrepreneurs from a wide variety of food sectors. Passionate entrepreneurs, local heroes, but also established names from all over the country. Entrepreneurs who believe in the concept and hard workers who distinguish themselves with their fresh produce.
However, it’s the non-comestible aspect of Markthal that’s garnering the most attention. A rare (only?) mixed-use building project that marries a market hall with housing, Markthal is home to 228 residential units that arch over the market itself.



Ranging from petite two-bedroom units to five-bedroom residences clocking in at well over 3,000-square-feet, the apartments, both condos and rentals, come equipped with truly staggering — and munchie-inducing — vistas. Not only do all the Markthal apartments command sweeping views of of the Rotterdam cityscape, the medieval Laurens Church (Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk) and/or the mighty River Maas from their exterior-facing windows and balconies, about half of the units also boast interior widows that look into the market. Naturally, the kitchens and dining rooms of these units face into the market while the living room and bedroom windows are positioned on the outside for optimum natural light as required by Dutch law.

What's more, the 24 penthouse apartments located at the top of the arch also have glass flooring squares that look directly down onto the market floor from 130-feet up.

While I’ve always been envious of those living in close proximity to great public markets (I’m looking at you, friends and family in South Philadelphia and Downtown Seattle), I’m not entirely sure how I’d feel about crawling out of bed each morning only to look down and be confronted with stroopwafels — delicious, fresh, artisanal stroopwafels. Sure, having a bounty of super-fresh produce at your doorstep would be beyond amazing, but can you imagine trying to embark on a serious dieting regimen while living in a food hall-apartment complex hybrid? Dangerous stuff.

And you're probably wondering about the smell/noise factor associated with those interior market-facing windows. Designboom explains that "the partitions are made of sound and smell proof triple glazing to experientially separate the living units from the food functions." 

It goes without saying that there will be ample face-stuffing going down within Markthal, a place where you can nap where you nibble, sleep where you scarf, live where you pig out on a semi-regular basis. But Markthal shoppers and residents who look up (or out) are in for a real treat in the form of a 36,000-square-foot mural conceived by artists Arno Coenen and Iris Roskam that completely covers the structure’s soaring vaulted ceiling.




Titled “Cornucopia,” the mosaic of digitally printed perforated aluminum screens — the largest public artwork in the Netherlands, by the way — is a riotous, rubbernecking depiction of fruits, veggies, grains, fish and other edibles sold within the market’s stalls. As MVRDV points out, the flowers and insects that appear in the mural are a nod to the Dutch Masters of the 17th century.

A foodie fever dream come to life, the overwhelming presence of “Cornucopia” makes stepping into Markthal an experience akin to visiting the “Sistine Chapel of fresh produce” as the Guardian’s Oliver Wainwright aptly puts it. And with its “technicolor tossed salad of a ceiling” Alissa Walker at Gizmodo likens the interior of Markthal to “the inside of a Vitamix.”

Coenen tells Designboom:

You could just look at the wonderful, almost psychedelic picture for it’s beauty, but the reference to the ‘horn of plenty’ points out the miracle that food is there for you. It is a work with a spiritual, religious feel to it. However, its larger-than-life size is not a tale of religion; it’s about nature. In the scientific way, more an ode to Stephen Hawking’s atheist way of looking at the origin of life.
One of the 14 firms tapped to participate in New Orleans' Make It Right green home rebuilding initiative, a pioneer in the field of cargotecture and a leader in grain silo-to-luxury housing conversions, MVRDV carefully incorporated numerous energy-saving elements into Markthal. The 130-foot-wide structure has received a Very Good rating from BREEAM, an international certification program for sustainable buildings. Let's just try to ignore the gigantic, 1,200-spot parking garage in the basement of the building — at least it's located an avocado stone's throw from a major train station.

Markthal mural

Markthal residence

Markthal residence

"A sustainable combination of food, leisure, living and parking, fully integrated to celebrate and enhance the synergistic possibilities of the different functions," Markthal is open to shoppers — project developer Provast anticipates 4 million to 7.5 million visitors/gawkers annually — daily from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

And although it's been reorganized a bit, Rotterdam's long-running and more traditional (read: less fancy and not just foodstuffs) outdoor market will be located just outside of the showstopping new structure. Held weekly on Tuesdays and Saturdays, the open-air market at Binnenrotte is the largest in the Netherlands and among the most expansive in all of Europe. Due to new food safety laws, however, shoppers will no longer find meat and fish stands in the outdoor market. They'll have to head indoors to the new market hall for those items.

Via [Designboom], [Gizmodo]

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.