Step out of an underground parking garage in Rotterdam, and you’ll suddenly be standing under one of the largest and wackiest murals in the world. Welcome to the new Markthal building, with a ceiling that’s ten times the size of the Sistine Chapel–and covered in fruit.
The structure is an unlikely combination that architects claim is the first of its kind–part farmers’ market and part apartment building. A huge arch covers the market below; it was specially designed to comply with an upcoming EU law that limits the sale of fresh food outside. Tucked inside the arch, and almost hidden inside the mural of giant fruit, are over 200 apartments.
When the city wanted to redevelop the area and asked for both housing and a new market hall, the architects realized they wanted to avoid the obvious solution–two apartment buildings with a gap in the middle for the market.
“These kind of market halls are often dark, introverted buildings with little connection to the surrounding urban area,” the architects, from the Dutch firm MVRDV, said in a statement.
“The market hall in Rotterdam however was to be an important impulse in the development of the neighborhood…A highly public, open building with good accessibility was needed. The team decided to just flip the two slabs and market, which led to a larger hall with two wide openings towards the city.”
Huge nets of glass panels hang at each end of the hall, so the massive ceiling mural is visible from outside. The mural was built piece by piece on a computer, making up 400,000 megapixels and covering 11,000 square meters. Each piece of the mural was screwed onto the wooden facade in what the architects call “the largest puzzle in Europe.”
The design has a few sustainable features. Tenants in the market hall sign “green leases” promising to use reduce water, energy, and waste, and some of the market stalls are topped with green roofs for growing crops. The architects took advantage of the huge arch to add nests for bats. The building is hooked up to the city’s district heating system. And, most importantly, the building is meant to increase density in the city center and encourage the use of public transportation.
Markthal is next to a train station and a hub for the metro, bus, and tram. Next year, the city will build racks for 800 bikes next door. Although the building also includes a new parking garage, it’s slightly more sustainable than usual–drivers can reserve a space online, so they’re less likely to drive around the neighborhood looking for a parking spot.
Still, it’s not clear yet that the building will successfully draw in new residents; so far, apartments have been slow to rent and sell. Vendors from the nearby open-air market haven’t wanted to rent the expensive new stalls inside. And locals haven’t necessarily been a fan of the design.
In a quirk of history, the building happens to be located on the exact spot where Rotterdam was founded in 1270. The neighborhood was once densely packed with buildings, but completely destroyed in World War II. (Riding up the escalator from the parking garage, visitors can look at a miniature museum that documents archeological discoveries from the site). Now, the city is hoping that this fruit-covered building can help usher in more new development.