“Cabinet of Curiosities” – Winner Prix de Rome Architecture 2014
‘Cabinets of Curiosities were encyclopedic collections of objects whose categorical boundaries were yet to be defined.’ Rotterdam is a modern city. A city of grand gestures, of functional separation and abundant space. A rough and tough city that is not concerned with congeniality but with progress. That said, after 70 years of reconstruction, Rotterdam has reached a turning point. It is keen to make the heart of the city, which ever since the bombardment has been a centre of work and shopping, an attractive place to live in once again.
The characteristic emptiness, originally seen as modern, efficient and generous, is increasingly experienced as ill-defined and inhuman. The public space is too large. The built fabric consists in part of exceptionally large, solitary buildings whose main ambition is to be iconic. In combination with the ill-defined space, they have an alienating effect. This extensive collection of singular buildings – distinctive buildings that represent a particular architectural period – makes the city centre unique. But the solitary buildings stand aloof from their context, they make no claims on the surrounding space. They are withdrawn, doing nothing to create a strong urban fabric and invoking a sense of disorientation and unease.
This plan introduces order into Rotterdam’s incoherent urban fabric without resorting to reckless demolition. Without harking back to the past and without leaping forward to a new promise for the future. The solitary buildings – typical Rotterdam curiosities – are cherished by embracing them with a strong urban architecture. After a rich history of experimenting with modern architecture, this project intensifies the public space by allowing the iconic buildings to excel, while at the same time integrating them with the city.
Urbanist structures will be placed around the solitary buildings. They vary in depth and porosity so as to be able to accommodate a range of functions. Sometimes they create a wall, sometimes boundaries are set in the form of a building. These structures are of a height that still allows the objects to surpass them.
Each object will have a specific interior, thereby turning the ill defined space into a well-defined public space, with interaction between street, structure and object. The structures are connected to one another through their openings and interspaces. The latter are formed by the clear urban boundaries and link up with the surrounding fabric. Movements between the various settings are flanked by the walls and clearly and spatially separated from the interiors.
Cabinet of Curiosities proposes a radical and sensitive re-ordering of the centre of Rotterdam in those places where there is a lack of clarity in spatial experience and where solitary buildings stand in the way of a coherent urban fabric. The introduction of clear boundaries both addresses and differentiates Rotterdam’s public space, while new spatial connections in the form of new squares, streets and lanes create a coherent network. The centre of Rotterdam will boast a richer, more varied spatial experience thanks to the curating of Rotterdam’s curiosities.