21 Apr Geometric dreams: Staying in Rotterdam’s iconic Cube Houses
Piet Blom’s Cube Houses, or Kubuswoningen, are a striking feature of Rotterdam’s skyline. You can explore the fascinating architecture on foot, but to really understand the thinking behind these unusual homes it’s even better to stay in one – like we just did.
Rotterdam’s skyline is a contemporary one.
Towering skyscrapers, the sweeping curves of the Erasmus bridge and the angular cranes that pepper the docksides tell a story about the city’s position as a major economic power and as the world’s largest port.
But there’s much more to the architecture of this city than just modern workplaces and formal spaces.
Step outside Rotterdam Centraal station and you’re immediately surrounded by buildings from almost every decade in the 20th and 21st centuries. Not to mention more than a few that have stood here far longer. Some of these are offices of multinational companies whilst others are shopping centres, cosy bars or even family homes. You never quite know what you’ll find around the next corner, and that’s part of the fun of the city.
Rotterdam has benefitted from liberal and progressive city planners over the last hundred or so years. They’ve allowed interesting buildings and developments to blossom. It’s given the city a very different feel to traditional Amsterdam – one that’s vibrant, diverse and young.
One of the most unusual developments is the Cube Houses, right at the heart of the city. Designed by architect Piet Blom and built during the 1980s, these unmistakable homes were intended as a vision for futuristic city living.
If you’re visiting Rotterdam, these curious buildings are a must-see. But I’d recommend going one step further than just taking a look. Try staying in one. On our recent trip to the Netherlands, we did just that and it was one of the best choices we made.
About Piet Blom’s Cube Houses
Piet Blom was a Dutch architect who created some of his most iconic works during the 1970s and ’80s. His designs explored structures he’d observed in nature – as well as contemporary materials and geometric shapes that were considered cutting edge at the time.
The Cube Houses were commissioned as a high-density housing development spanning across a bridge (a major road runs underneath). The area had been largely destroyed during World War Two, and the city was willing to consider some fresh thinking.
Blom wanted to expand on an idea he’d experimented with some years earlier in the Dutch city of Helmond. Each of the houses would be based on a cubic structure, but then tilted by 45 degrees. These cubes would then be nested together like honeycomb, creating little courtyards and communal spaces in between. The houses would be suspended on pylons that mimicked tree trunks, with the body of the house forming a canopy above. Collectively the development would be an urban forest of tree houses.
Honestly, I’m not normally that fond of architecture from the 1980s. The bright colours, sharp lines and industrial materials aren’t my usual cup of tea. But there is something special about these houses that made me really warm to them during our stay.
Perhaps it was the sense of space and escapism whilst being in the centre of the city. Or maybe the cheerful colours and jaunty angles that made the sun feel like it was shining, even when it wasn’t. Or even the feeling of community, like a traditional courtyard or terrace of homes. Whatever way, I suddenly understood Blom’s ideas.
Visiting the Cube Houses
Anyone can visit the Cube Houses.
The buildings can be admired from Overblaak station and from the staggering new Markthal outside (well worth a visit in its own right). Follow the steps up from street level and you can explore the courtyards and meander through the development to the old harbour on the far side.
If you want to know what lies beyond the front doors here, you can. One of the houses is open to the public as a museum and for €5 you can discover what life is really like inside.
Alternatively, you can do as we did and stay overnight. One of the larger cubes is home to Stayokay Rotterdam, the city’s most remarkable hostel. Would I recommend it? Absolutely.
Staying at the Stayokay Rotterdam
Stayokay is a Dutch hostel chain and one that I’d choose again. They offer clean, comfortable – if a little basic – rooms as well as a generous breakfast buffet as part of your stay. As hostels go, the Stayokay is pretty smart. There’s a large, welcoming communal area with a bar (where breakfast is also served) and several small outdoor terraces. Plus there are helpful staff around throughout the day.
But best of all, you get to experience life inside an iconic building.
Standing in the centre of the communal space in the hostel, Piet Blom’s vision makes a lot of space. The angular windows let in a lot of light, whilst the tilted walls – which rise to a ceiling greater in area than the floor below – make the space feel enormous. At the centre of the hostel is a lift that rises to the bedrooms, echoing the idea of a tree trunk rising up into a canopy.
Our room was on the second floor, and whilst it was a little snug it was very comfortable. The ensuite bathroom was surprisingly spacious and well-equipped. But it was the windows that I found most fascinating. The L-shaped room had windows along two walls, allowing plenty of light in. However, the clever angles and orientation of the building mean no room overlooks one another – although we could look down into a courtyard below. It rather effectively manages to blend and balance privacy with being part of a community.
Our room for the night (twin beds with an ensuite bathroom) cost €55 in April 2019. To book or find out more check out the Stayokay Rotterdam website.
Things to know about the Cube Houses
As with anywhere you visit for the first time, be prepared for a few small surprises.
The Cube Houses are located in a busy part of centre Rotterdam. This means they’re easy to find and fantastically well-located if you want to grab food or head down to the river. It also means it can be pretty busy with a lot going on. Cars run underneath the building day and night on a major road and well, it feels like a city centre. Whilst the houses are suspended on the bridge, down at ground level there are a slightly perplexing array of businesses including a small casino.
Stayokay Rotterdam is a great hostel in my opinion. It’s the sort of place that does brilliant basics really well. But just bear in mind that the rooms are quirky in terms of layout and the furniture that can be fitted into them. It’s the nature of being in a Cube House!
I’d absolutely come back here if I visit Rotterdam again in future.
Want to know more about Rotterdam? Check out my guide to exploring this curious and delightful city in 24 hours.