Markthal Rotterdam. Europe’s largest covered market

Rotterdam, you will agree with me, is one of the most modern and interesting cities in Europe. Its industrial heart and its appearance of a concrete giant hides an unforgettable journey through the world of architecture. Today we are going to talk about the Markthal Rotterdam.

This market, opened in 2014, is the largest covered market in Europe. It is a modern, risky structure that combines in its services the traditional product market with energy-efficient housing and technologies.

Its structure, although we will now see it in greater detail, is raised on steel cables covered with glass, giving rise to an impressive shape. Would you like to know more about it? Go ahead.

Location and a story to tell

The history of Rotterdam is articulated around the Rotte River, from which it took its name. The city was founded in century XIII and took advantage of the dam constructed in the river to develop like population.

Barely 200 years later the construction of the church of Laurenskerk was initiated, which was raised in one of the banks of the river, very near the place that today occupies the Markthal Rotterdam. The Laurenskerk church took care of the population that had settled in the land gained to the river.

Centuries later, the river Rotte was diverted to build a railway line which, at the end of the last century, was converted into a tunnel, forming a large square where an open-air market (in fact, the largest in the country) began to be held twice a week.

It was in 2004 that the idea of the Markthal Rotterdam came to fruition. The city council put out to tender a construction project for a semi-covered market that could attract a large number of people to its interior.

One of the reasons for this was the European food safety regulation on the open sale of fresh produce, which came into force in 2020.

This competition was won by the architectural office MVRDV in collaboration with the engineer INBO. The project started five years later, in 2009, and was completed in 2014, the year of its inauguration.

Design and architecture

The project for the Markthal Rotterdam was a challenge in terms of both architectural design and construction. It resulted in a huge building that is 40 m high, 70 m wide and 120 m long, protected against the wind and rain and with a built up area of 100,000 m 2 .

In order to follow the guidelines of the project to create an open space, a steel cable facade was designed, in fact, the largest in Europe, covered with glass on its sides, so that the enclosures were as transparent as possible.

As we mentioned before, the market opened its doors in 2014, and did so as a space dedicated not only to food and leisure, but also to housing, as it has 288 flats and 100 stalls selling products, as well as space for catering and more than 1000 parking spaces.

The different faces of the Markthal Rotterdam

Construction and engineering

The construction of the Markthal Rotterdam was a challenge for engineering. In a city like Rotterdam which, as we saw, grew up surrounded by water, and on land previously reclaimed from the Rotter River, erecting a building of this type requires, as it did, a great deal of effort.

The countdown

The first obstacle the project had to face was the ground water level, just 1m below ground. This meant that, before the first stone was laid, the land had to be secured.

For this purpose, a 20m deep surface was excavated and walled. It was filled with water and then covered with underwater concrete, to extract the water again and secure the area.

That’s when the nightmare began for the neighbours and nearby businesses. For a year and a half 2500 piles were driven in to secure the foundations. The noise was so disturbing to the neighbours that the area was covered with construction site containers to mitigate the noise from the construction site.

However, the noise did not stop and, to make the wait more bearable, a sign was placed with a countdown counter that indicated to the citizens how many piles were still to be placed. The last one was placed in June 2010.

Materials. The biggest tennis racket in Europe

The structure of the building is made up of an arch 40 metres high and 120 metres wide. The exterior cladding is natural grey rock, the same that can be found in the paving of the square.

The main façade, as well as the rear one, consists of a series of 26 vertical and 22 horizontal steel cables covered with flexible glass. It covers 34 metres in height and 42 metres in width, adding up to a total of 2,800 m2 of glass.

Its structure, similar to a tennis racket, stands on a concrete frame and is flexible enough to withstand the strong winds of the area and the inclemency of the weather without cracking. It does, however, fold up to 70 cm inwards.

This system allows us to observe the interior of the market while protecting it. It is the largest steel cable facade in Europe.

Internal structure

The building, as we have seen, was designed to attract as many people as possible. For that reason, it is easily accessible by both public and private transport.

On the outside there are six different entrances leading to the interior lifts from which to access the market or the homes. In total, the market has 126 homes with a terrace and 24 penthouses with an open roof on the top floor.

The 1,200 parking spaces are distributed over the four lower floors, which can be accessed from floor -1, where there are also accesses for unloading and parking for bicycles.

Energy certificates and usage requirements

Markthal Rotterdam has been built with energy efficiency and insulation criteria in mind. For example, the houses, thanks to their sound insulation, are not disturbed by market noise.

Similarly, the running water circuit of the bathrooms is only activated when they are occupied and the use of CO2 is monitored and reported on market energy use.

In the same way, the heating uses a system of accumulation of heat and cold in the floor, taking advantage of the air currents generated inside the building to distribute the heat efficiently.

In addition, all merchants must accept the conditions set out in the “Green Lease Agreements” in order to start their activity.

Finally, the market has the BREEAM certificate with a Very Good rating for its equipment. This certificate evaluates 10 categories on the use of buildings and their treatment of energy, water, waste, soil, etc., and then awards a score.

Interior, permanent exhibition and Pixar’s characteristic mural

If we enter the market we will be surprised, above all, by the enormous mural that decorates the interior walls, which are covered, incidentally, by 4000 perforated aluminium panels attached to acoustic panels to muffle noise.

This 10000 m2 mural is the work of the artists Arno Coene and Iris Roskam, and is printed on the aluminium panels just mentioned. It shows images of traditional products that can be bought in the market and includes typical images of dutch still lifes.

The work is called “Cornucopia” or “The Horn of Plenty” and is the largest in the Netherlands. Special computer servers, the same ones used by the Pixar company to make their films, and a total space of almost 1.5 Terabytes were needed to carry it out.

But there is still more. The market has a permanent exhibition that displays the remains found under the foundations of the work, which date back to the 10th century, to a settlement before the dam on the Rotte river .

The exhibition, known as “De Trijdtrap”, is located on the escalator inside the market and helps us to get to know not only this ancient settlement, but also the history of the city and the food sold at the different stalls.

Martkhal Rotterdam and the interior wall cornucopia

In the words of architect Wilhelmus Maas of the MVRDV studio:

“We have built on the ashes of Rotterdam”

We hope you liked this entry about the Markthal Rotterdam. Remember that in our News section, you can delve a little deeper into the different architectural styles and outstanding works of modern architecture.

But, as if this were not enough, you can also access our project gallery to see the more than 300 works selected with STACBOND composite panel.