A clever combined market and apartment project navigates strict Dutch laws for food and housing.

Last week, Queen Máxima of the Netherlands opened the Markthal Rotterdam, the nation's first covered market hall. It's an achievement by the brainy Dutch design firm MVRDV, a signature building that the press has already taken to calling the Horseshoe. It's a big architectural achievement—but it's also in part a product of Dutch law.

Markthal Rotterdam is a combined market hall and housing project. The development comprises 228 apartment units and 100 market stalls, in addition to a supermarket, retail space, and parking. A vast mural along the market's ceiling (by Dutch artists Arno Coenen and Iris Roskam) transforms the building's cavity into a welcoming public space.

(MVRDV)

Yet for all its whimsy, the Markthal project conforms to some of the strictest building-design laws in all of Europe. Navigating restraints regarding sanitation and daylighting, MVRDV answered with a seemingly effortless design translation of these regulations.

"New laws in the Netherlands require covered areas for traditional open air meat and fish markets due to new hygienic constraints," reads the firm's website. In other words, traditional open-air food markets aren't really allowed by law in the Netherlands.

(MVRDV)

Strictly speaking, this market space isn't open at all: On each end of the cavernous hall is a single-skin glazed cable net façade. Think of it as a tennis racket strung with energy-efficient glass panels. The transparent walls are designed to withstand heavy storms, making a year-round market possible; and according to MVRDV, the façade system is the largest of its kind in Europe.

The open-air market design in turn informed the shape of the apartments. As in all EU nations, constructions in the Netherlands comports to certain standards set forth by the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive. But Dutch law goes further, specifying the amount of daylight that certain rooms and buildings should receive.

(MVRDV)

To meet the requirements—and to neatly tie the residential program of the building to the market—the kitchens and dining rooms of all the apartments face inward into the market hall. Those spaces don't specifically require daylight under Dutch law. The rooms that do are located on the outside of the building.

(MVRDV)

The Markthal is one of a number of new projects that has been cast as an effort to turn Rotterdam into—in the words of the Office of Metropolitan Architecture—the first Dutch city to "go Asiatic." De Rotterdam is another example: OMA's own "vertical city" on the harbor turns its back on the past, embracing a denser and more urban vision for the city.

(MVRDV)

The forward-looking design for the Markthal is as much a product of Dutch regulation as it is an accomplishment of Dutch design. Not everyone will share Queen Máxima's enthusiasm for the fast, aggressive, and unsentimental scope of new architecture in Rotterdam. But a triumph over rigid regulation—even the kind meant to make life and living better in the city—is something everybody can appreciate.

(MVRDV)

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