From afar the Markthal built by MVRDV in Rotterdam might suggest a kind of arch of triumph, a monument of the magnitude of the Baths of Caracalla. But this is just a mirage. As the visitor approaches the central eye of the building, the impression it gives is a playful, almost psychedelic one. The hundred food stalls of the market are protected overhead by a vault of aluminum panels that have been screenprinted with lemons, strawberries, apples, or bananas of vivid colors forming a gigantic still-life, amounting to something like a fruit vendor’s hallucination.
A pop temple of fresh products, the Markthall is also an enormous infrastructure which, following the finest works of MVRDV, serves to set in motion an increase in the density of the neighborhood it is located in, the Laurens Quarter, which was the heart of the city of Rotterdam until it was completely destroyed by German bombings during World War II. And it offers a surprising program of mixed uses. Like dwellings leaning on the sides of a cathedral in medieval times, or perhaps like an inverted panopticon, 230 apartments are stacked on top of one another around the huge void of the market hall, adapting to the curvilinear section of the ensemble, which is extruded like a churro or an aluminum profile to stretch to a length of almost a hundred meters.
This is a building that Rem Koolhaas would certainly classify as XL, and which ultimately shows how Rotterdam has not ceased – since the times of Hans Mentink and Hugh Maaskant – to be a laboratory for extraordinary architecture.