Have you visited Rotterdam? What is the one thing that comes to your mind when you think about it? Indeed, Rotterdam’s modern architectural style is one of the most intriguing aspects of the city, which is unusual compared to the native European architectural context. Still, the city is also well known for its architectural masterpiece- the cube houses (commonly known as Kubuswoningen) designed by architect Piet Blom.

What are Rotterdam's Cube Houses? - Sheet1
The Cube Houses_©timesknowledge.in

The narrative behind the concept of the Cube Houses

The story of the Cube houses is interesting! During the Second World War, the city was destroyed with no major remains. The aftermath of the war came with a big need to rebuild the city architecturally, intending to make it unique. Therefore, efforts were taken to counteract the utilitarian architecture which existed previously, and the Cube houses are one of the finest examples of the early symbols of modernization in the city. Equal attempts were also being made to make the buildings more attractive, as the city saw a predominantly grey architecture during its reconstruction. As a result, yellow was chosen for the façade due to the psychological effect that it creates- optimism and brightness.

What are Rotterdam's Cube Houses? - Sheet2
The bright yellow facade treated with conventional windows resembling a house_ ©heavenly-holland.com

In addition to this, the composition of the pure geometric forms immediately captures the attention of its beholders. The cubic architectural style following the concept of the “Cube at its point on the pole”, where the elevated cubes function as houses supported on the hexagonal piers, addressing the challenge of freeing up the ground space for the public interaction and usage, as the site was spread across the major traffic artery of the city. Piet Blom metaphorically compared every cube house to a tree, where the cube represented the foliage, and the hexagonal pier represented the tree’s bark. Similarly, he compared the entire cluster of the cube houses to a forest forming a canopy and to a cluster of houses in a village, which are interconnected to each other, enabling interaction among the residents as in villages. This interpretation by the architect is widely recognized among the visitors but still keeps them curious about its unconventionality of being a residence. The architectural combination of the striking yellow façade, its form and the spatial dimension of the public space connecting the market space and the old area is quite successful in drawing people’s attention.

What are Rotterdam's Cube Houses? - Sheet3
Canopy of Cube Houses_© thehostelgirl.com
What are Rotterdam's Cube Houses? - Sheet4
The Cube Houses spanning across the major traffic artery of the city_ ©Sebastian Grote

The fascinating structure of the Cube Houses

The cubes measure 22 meters in height with each side measuring about 7.5 meters. While the pillars and floors were made out of reinforced concrete, structural wooden skeletons formed the base for erecting the cubes which were mounted on the edges of the floors. The interior and exterior of this wooden skeletal base were wrapped up with 18 millimetres thick fibre cement panels with rock wool insulation in the middle. Since the insulation value of the cubes is high, it almost cuts down exterior noises providing a peaceful environment on the inside to its residents. Most of the construction was on-site, using reduced prefabricated elements for such a complex structure.

What are Rotterdam's Cube Houses? - Sheet5
The structure of the cubes_ ©en.wikiarquitectura.com

Interior functioning of the Cube houses

Due to this complex form, its interior function as a residence is questionable to many visitors. The interior walls are angled at 54.7 degrees with the floor, making the user feel distorted because of the absence of straight walls. This has its limitations as a quarter of the 100 square meter space of the house is unusable because of its angular walls. However, by using iconic elements of a conventional house, the building convinces the user of its functionality. The use of these elements signifies the architectural semiotics used by the architect trying to give the users a familiar homely indoor experience.

What are Rotterdam's Cube Houses? - Sheet6
Interiors of the cube house_ ©mybestplace.com

The interior of the cube houses is divided into three floors which are connected by a narrow wooden staircase. The ground level consists of the living room and an open kitchen, with windows running across the entire perimeter of the cube, using the concept of Le Corbusier’s band window symbolizing modernism. These windows were used to offer an interior atmosphere similar to living on a tree with a panoramic view of the exteriors to its inhabitants. On the other hand, the second floor with sky facing windows hosted two bedrooms, a bathroom and a small living room. The uppermost floor represented a three-sided pyramid that could be used as a bedroom or a solarium, depending on the choice of the resident.

This architectural masterpiece is an inspiration in itself, surprising the residents and guest users (visitors) by providing an unconventional yet amazing experience from the inside and giving a beautiful memory of the city with its complex and unique architecture from the outside. Its popularity in the world is widely acknowledged, turning it into one of the popular tourist destinations of the Netherlands attracting thousands of tourists every year.

References:

  1. ArchDaily. n.d. The Role of Color in Architecture: Visual Effects and Psychological Stimuli. [online] Available at: <https://www.archdaily.com/895498/the-role-of-color-in-architecture-visual-effects-and-psychological-stimuli>
  2. MasterClass. 2022. An Architectural Guide to the Cube Houses of Rotterdam. [online] Available at: <https://www.masterclass.com/articles/cube-house-architecture-guide> 
  3. Holland.com. n.d. The Cube Houses in Rotterdam. [online] Available at: <https://www.holland.com/global/tourism/destinations/rotterdam/rotterdam-cube-houses.htm>
  4. Angloinfo.com. n.d. The Curious Cube Houses of Rotterdam. [online] Available at: <https://www.angloinfo.com/blogs/netherlands/south-holland/roaming-rotterdam/the-curious-cube-houses-of-rotterdam/>
  5. Atlas Obscura. n.d. Cube House. [online] Available at: <https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/cube-house>
  6. Laure Wanders. n.d. The Yellow Cube Houses of Rotterdam: A Useful Guide – Laure Wanders. [online] Available at: <https://www.laurewanders.com/yellow-cube-houses-rotterdam/>
  7. ArchDaily. n.d. AD Classics: Kubuswoningen / Piet Blom. [online] Available at: <https://www.archdaily.com/482339/ad-classics-kubuswoningen-piet-blom>
Author

An architecture student who believes that any space can be turned into a lively environment only when it caters to its user’s needs and is extremely passionate about walking the cities on its journey in becoming sustainable and inclusive for its people.

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