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Cube Houses (Kubuswoningen)

From: Rotterdam, Netherlands

Kubuswoningen, Blaaktoren

ABOVE: Rotterdam's Kubuswoningen are next to the Blaaktoren, or "Pencil Tower." Both buildings were designed by architect Piet Blom.

Cube Houses RotterdamRotterdam has a long tradition of modern architecture: Its Witte Huis or "White House" was the tallest building in Europe when it went up in 1898, and the Rotterdam Tourist Office boasts about its architects the way Liverpool brags about the Beatles. Still, when the late architect Piet Blom came up with a proposal for his Kubuswoningen or "Cube Houses" in the 1970s, more than a few Dutch eyebrows were raised.

Blom saw each cube-shaped dwelling as a "treehouse" or "polehouse" in a forest, or as a modular component in an urban village that would combine private and public functions such as housing, small businesses, a playground, and a school.

He built his first batch of 21 cube houses in the town of Helmond from 1975 to 1977. A year later, Blom presented his concept for the Rotterdam Kubuswoningen. Construction began in 1982, and the project was completed in 1984.

Rotterdam cube dwellingsEach Kubuswoning is built in the shape of a tilted block, with living quarters on several levels and exterior walls that tilt downward to face the ground or upward to face the sun. Windows and skylights open, and each dwelling even has a small balcony.

After a quarter of a century, a significant number of the original occupants still live in the Cube Houses, and the odd-shaped but surprisingly spacious dwellings continue to attract adventurous Rotterdammers who are willing to live without Granny's armoire or rectilinear wall systems from Ikea.

Visiting the Cube Houses:

There are three ways to see the interior of a Cube House:

  • By making friends with a resident (not very practical, unless you get lucky with a "Looking for a Cube House buddy" ad on Craigslist).

  • Stayokay youth hostel signBy booking a bed at Stayokay Hostel Rotterdam, a Hostelling International youth hostel that opened in the Kubuswoningen in 2009.

  • By paying a small fee to visit the Kijk-Kubus or "Show-Cube (see below), a model dwelling outfitted with custom furniture designed by the museum director. The Show-Cube has several exhibits about the project and its history.

Kijk-Kubus / Show Cube:

Kubuswoningen Rotterdam

ABOVE: The Kijk-Kubus, or Show-Cube, is a short walk upstairs from the Kubuswoningen courtyard.

Opening hours:

Kijk-Kubus signThe Kijk-Kubus or Show Cube is open daily from 10 6 p.m. Follow the signs to the entrance, which is simply a doorway beneath one of the cubes.

Be prepared to climb a steep flight of Dutch-style steps; at the top of the stairs, you'll enter the cube dwelling's living room, where you can buy an inexpensive ticket.

For more information, visit the official Kijk-Kubus Web site.

How to reach the Cube Houses:

Promenade Oberblaak signThe Kubuswoningen are just south of the Rotterdam Blaak railroad and Metro station, at the top of the Oude Haven (Old Harbor). They're only a short walk from most other locations in the city center, but if you're in a hurry, you can reach the Blaak Station by NS commuter train or Metro, or by local tram or bus (see the RET transit agency's journey planner).

  • Tip: Allow time for a visit to the Oude Haven (where you'll find a number of waterside bars and restaurants) and the Rotterdam Central Library, which has English-language reading materials and free Internet terminals upstairs.

More photos:

Oude Haven - Old Harbour

The Cube Houses are just above Rotterdam's Oude Haven (Old Harbor).

Cube Houses façade

This view up the façade of the Kubuswoningen, or Cube Houses, shows the basic structural layout: Each cube rests on its corner atop a base of brick and concrete.

An entrance staircase leads from the dwelling's doorway to the living space inside the cube.

Rotterdam Central Library

From the courtyard inside the Kubuswoningen complex, you can see the Rotterdam Central Library next door.

Rotterdam's central Bibliotheek was the largest public library in the Netherlands at the time of its construction in the 1980s. Its facilities include a cabaret theatre and a café-restaurant.

Cube Houses windows on Oude Haven

The most desirable Cube Houses are the ones facing the Old Harbor. Note how the windows look downward--a great idea for "Neighborhood Watch" programs.

No soft drugs sign

A sign warns residents and visitors against using soft drugs. (It isn't clear whether hard drugs are forbidden.)

Kijk-Kubus or Show Cube sign

After you've stashed your hash, head upstairs to the Kijk-Kubus or Show-Cube. (You might as well be clear-headed when entering the cube dwelling, since the layout is a trip in itself.)

Show-Cube main level

The Show-Cube's main level, or living room, doubles as a ticket office and bookshop.

(Note: Our fisheye lens introduced some distortion, but the walls really do tilt outward.)

Kijk-Kubus furniture

The Show-Cube's furniture was custom-designed by the museum director.

Cube House windows - view

The courtyard of the Kubuswoningen complex is visible through the living-room windows.

Cube House staircase

Steep stairs, similar to those in an old Dutch canal house, lead to the upper levels of the cube dwelling.

Cube House supergraphics

1970s-style supergraphics are at the occupant's discretion.

Roofs of Cube Houses

A view across the roofs of neighboring Cube Houses shows the upper floors of the Rotterdam Central Library and several apartment buildings.

Show-Cube interior

Interior views are even more impressive, especially as you climb higher in the Show-Cube.

Stayokay Rotterdam youth hostel

If your visit to the Kijk-Kubus or Show-Cube has left you dizzy, you can ask for a bed at the Stayokay Hostel Rotterdam within the Cube Houses project.

The hostel's accommodations range from shared 6- to 9-bed rooms (mixed or single-sex) to private 2-, 4-, or 6-bed rooms and a "cube studio" for two.

About the author:

Durant Imboden photo.Durant Imboden is a professional travel writer, book author, and editor who focuses on European cities and transportation.

After 4-1/2 years of covering European travel topics for, Durant and Cheryl Imboden co-founded Europe for Visitors in 2001. The site has earned "Best of the Web" honors from Forbes and The Washington Post.

For more information, see About Europe for Visitors, press clippings, and reader testimonials.

1st inset photo copyright © placetobe.
2nd inset photo copyright © LyaC.