clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Exploring the Oblique Geometry of Piet Blom's Cube Houses

New, 1 comment

Here now, The Airbnb Diaries, a Renters Week mini-series chronicling firsthand what it's like to bunk (via the vacation-rentals site Airbnb) in some of the most architecturally interesting dwellings on the planet. Next up: Piet Blom's cluster of Cube Houses in the Dutch city of Rotterdam.

With its jagged roofs and sunny yellow siding, Rotterdam's Cube House complex is an unmistakable fixture on the city skyline, one that was originally imagined by architect Piet Blom as an urban forest, of sorts, with each spiky point functioning as the top of a "tree." The community, which was completed in 1984, consists of 38 small cubes and two "super cubes," each positioned on hexagonal pylons on a 45-degree tilt. At the moment one of the super cubes is being used as transitional housing for a group of former prison inmates, but it's the structure's kooky angles that were of more interest to Airbnb user Tania, an Indian-born architect who's living in Zurich right now. She stayed a night in one small Cube House unit while passing through Rotterdam on a 24-day trip through Western Europe.

Rotterdam's varied buildings, bridges, urban parks, and landscaping were a big draw for Tania and her boyfriend and since they only planned to spend a night here, they figured they'd kill two birds with one stone and actually lodge at one stop along their architecture tour. "It was really fascinating to say, OK, this is really interesting to us from the outside, but let's stay here and see how these oblique spaces feel in reality," she says. "We knew about the building, but we did not know that we could stay inside one."

On the first floor, where the base of the cube "is somewhere settled into the hexagon," the "walls are moving out of the building," Tania recalls. "That works very well for a public space because that level has an open living room and an open kitchen. With the oblique walls, it makes the space look much bigger. All the radiators, sofas, and counters were all in line with the walls. The interiors were basically as architecturally thought out as the building was." A twisting central staircase ascends to a mezzanine level (basically a storage or small sleeping area), then to the bedroom, where "the walls start to narrow down and make an acute angle," and finally to the top-level lounge, which affords 360-degree views of the city through the glass-paned tippy-top.

The biggest drawback to the setup wasn't actually the steeply pitched walls, as one might think. "In the living area, you could actually look across to the other Cube Houses," Tania says. "The windows were all glass and the angles were such that you could actually peep into the other person's kitchen. In the bedroom and top floor, everything was fine, but those places were much closer—way too much close together."

Still, Tania says:
"In terms of architectural it really thrilled me. How did [Blom] even think of making something like that? It was really really fascinating how the architect thought of the oblique geometry, because whenever we design spaces the angles are always a problem. The key was to understand when the proportion was right, and be sure the interior was not an afterthought. It definitely thought out as the building was made. And not only architects, but anyone, would be interested in such a different sort of a space. Nobody would really think of it living there unless they actually stayed there—it's nice architecturally and you can take a look around it, take some pictures, and it's wacky and it's interesting but you would not think it works in the inside until you experience it.


· Cubehouse in centre of Rotterdam [Airbnb]
· This Iconic Cluter of Cubes is Now Home to 20 Ex-Cons [Curbed National]
· All Renters Week 2013 posts [Curbed National]
· All The Airbnb Diaries [Curbed National]