Rotterdam’s grand experiment with architecture that mutates over time

Rotterdam's grand experiment with architecture that mutates over time

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Rotterdam's grand experiment with architecture that mutates over time

Can architecture be future-proof? OMA reckons so and has created a mutable behemoth that combines offices, housing, retail, and more

There’s no shortage of grand gestures in high-profile buildings tailored like a bespoke suit for a specific client and function. Once the original tenant moves out, however, the structures are often gutted—which is expensive—or demolished—which is taxing on the environment. In designing Rotterdam’s new city hall—dubbed the Timmerhuis—the Office for Metropolitan Architecture opted for a multi-purpose approach. Intended to be future-proof, the pixelated mixed-use structure can morph over time, demonstrating a new paradigm for sustainable urban design.

The 521,000-square-foot building holds Rotterdam’s municipal offices, a museum, retail spaces, a cafe, and 84 apartments. Predominantly slick glass and steel, the new structure is fused with the existing 1953 city hall. A soaring atrium cuts through the center of the building and there’s parking below ground. It’s a veritable city within the city. And thanks to its ambitious sustainability credentials—prefabricated steel framing, energy storage systems, solar panels, shading system, and a car-sharing program—Timmerhuis has achieved an “excellent” rating from BREEAM, an international metric for green building.

But the real innovation is its mutability. “A good urban building can accommodate as many unforeseen events as possible,” architect Reinier de Graaf, a partner at OMA, says. To that end, the structure is relatively easy to retool. Unlike concrete—a favorite modern material—steel can be recycled. Moreover, the randomness of the silhouette all but ensures that additions won’t stick out like a sore thumb. The modular design looks like an unfinished stack of blocks. Should the client need to add to the building, it simply slots another block into the mass. The floor plan of the residences and offices are based off of squares and rectangles and because of this organization, one could be converted to the other relatively easily. […]


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