Stuart Forster explores the newly opened market hall in downtown Rotterdam
A cow the size of a house looms over me. Gawping upwards I begin to pick out other components of the Netherlands’ largest artwork, within Rotterdam’s newly opened Markthal.
Horn of Plenty, a massive digital mural designed by Arno Coenen and Iris Roskam, arches overhead on the walls and ceiling of the airy market hall, which looks set to become an iconic landmark.
The colourful work depicts foodstuffs such as raspberries, cherries and even sugar snap peas falling from a sunlit summer sky.
Butterflies and fish also appear to be tumbling towards the earth, while the cow stands stolidly below an image of the nearby Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk (St Lawrence Church), one of the few buildings in central Rotterdam that wasn’t flattened by aerial bombardment during WWII.
Windows belonging to the 228 apartments built into the Markthal’s 131ft-tall arch intersperse the 4,500 aluminium panels that make up the 118,403sq ft artwork. The digital camera I’m using to capture scenes around me has over 22 megapixels but that pales into insignificance compared to the 400,000 megapixels that went into the design of the Horn of Plenty.
Stallholders and shoppers chat but the hubbub of conversation remains surprisingly low, with the noise absorbed by acoustic panels located behind the artwork’s perforated aluminium layer.
Wandering between the 96 stalls, I nibble on tasters ranging from piquant Old Rotterdam cheese and shiny olives to freshly baked bread and a spicy red chilli packed with cream cheese. The Markthal also hosts eight restaurants but at the rate I’m devouring samples, I won’t need to pause for lunch. Thanks to the punch of the chilli, though, I will need to grab a bottle of water from one of the shops on the ground floor or the supermarket in the basement, which also houses a four-storey underground car park that stays open 24 hours a day.
The opening of the Markthal represents a milestone in the long-term regeneration of Rotterdam. The Binnenrotte district, where the market hall stands, was for many years a no-go area at night. A local man explains how social housing projects and the decriminalisation of drug use were factors in changing the situation, which looked particularly bleak in the late 1980s. Drawing respectable citizens and families back into city centre housing has also helped revive the area.
Initial plans for the market hall were drawn up by Rotterdam-based MVRDV architectural bureau back in 2004 but it wasn’t until 2009 that work began on the €175m (£139.3m) project.
A stallholder jokes with me as I take his photo. Helpfully, he suggests I return later to view the animations that are projected onto the ceiling at night. I thank him and, in the meantime, set off to explore the rest of downtown Rotterdam.