Just in case


Personal Architecture Office radically transformed an architectural landmark of the 1980s in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, into a rehabilitation centre and halfway-home for convicts.

Ever since German bombs destroyed the historic center of Rotterdam in World War II, the city has been working to establish a radically new and modern identity. One of the most remarkable architectural experiments that resulted were the 38 cube houses designed in the early 1980s by architect Piet Blom in the city center. Blom spectacularly designed these houses as angled boxes on columns, hovering above and around an elevated street, the Overblaak, which served as a bridge over the Blaak, a busy road connecting a public market square with the old harbor. Blom intended the elevated street to be a sheltered yet public space for shops, businesses, and playgrounds, and designed the angled houses to resemble trees. So he called the complex Blaak Forest.

SUPER KUBUS max borka


As a public space the Overblaak was not very successful. Yet the cube houses that were meant to function as single-family homes with 90 square meters of space on three floors fared better, in spite of their difficult floor plans and slanting walls.


At each end of the complex, Blom placed a Superkubus or Supercube. The one to the north, on the side of the marketplace, was intended to be a commercial space but was never fully used. Its top floor was not even completed. The Supercube to the south, on the side of the old harbor, was built to house a school for architects. In 2009, the young Rotterdam-based Personal Architecture (P-A) design studio firm of Sander van Schaik and Maarten Polkamp had already refurbished this southern Supercube into a Stayokay youth hostel. So when Exodus, a foundation that helps ex-convicts on parole, decided to move to the Blaak Forest, it went to the firm that was already familiar with Blom's design. Concerned about security, neighbors fought the project in court, but Exodus won: the Supercube on the north, owned by the local housing association and rented to Exodus now provides 20 rooms for ex-cons, plus one for a staff member on night duty, and shared living space for both men and women transitioning from prison.


Yet before the oddly shaped space of 1,200 square meters could be made suitable for its new use and Exodus could move in, the Supercube required an extreme makeover. And that's where Personal Architecture came in. Since the opening ‘Cube House Complex’ in 1982, and despite its worldwide fame, the ‘Super Cube’ has struggled to find a permanent program: the building was dark, with spaces that were difficult to accommodate. Moreover, the building was exceedingly warm in summer months. P·A came up with a bold plan to bore a hole all the way through the center of the building, creating a void from the roof down to the ground floor. The void brings daylight into the heart of the building, fosters interaction between programs on different stories and enables natural ventilation.To do so, the architects removed the column at the center of the cube, replacing it with an open shaft that serves as an atrium for all four floors. That meant transferring the weight of the upper floors to steel portals at the four corners. Within the atrium, P-A added various functions connected by stairs: a reception and pantry on the ground floor, washing and storage spaces on the floors with the residents' rooms, a communal kitchen on the fourth floor, and a lounge. Every element added by P-A is orthogonal, creating a visual distinction from Blom's overbearing diagonals. The original stairs—located at two corners of the cube—now serve as emergency exits. On the new stairwell, nets cover openings as a safety measure. To improve acoustics, the architects added felt surfaces that turned out to be handy bulletin boards as well.

with others again. Moreover, it brings daylight inside and pulls warm air up, while P-A also added new windows.


Completed in July 2013, at a total cost of € 1,6 million, the project was also designed to encourage interaction among inhabitants, who spend anywhere between nine and 12 months at the facility. The lounge for instance sits like a crow's nest above the common spaces, just below the tip of the cube. Restoring the residents' sense of individuality was another important goal. Small elements—such as painted-wood doorposts, a light in front of each room, and a private shower and toilet in each unit — try to provide dignity to the living experience, and fully concentrating on the project's mission to offer a second chance, not just to the building, but also to its residents. The transformation was nominated for “the Golden Pyramid (de Gouden Piramide)”, a prestigious state prize awarded biennially for excellence in commissioning work in architecture and urban design.




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