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June 15, 2015
Rotterdam Food Hall

Photo: Rotterdam's Market Hall lit up at night.

Thanks to the Rotterdam Blitz (the severe bombing of the Netherlands' second biggest city by the Nazis during WWII), there are few relics from the "Golden Age" left standing. The city could have rebuilt its historical buildings but instead chose to go forward and recreate itself as a metropolis of the future. Hence visitors tend to be fans of modern, industrial architecture. A busy industrial port, Rotterdam boasts several skyscrapers, the Erasmus Bridge, Piet Blom Cube Houses, plus plenty of projects by native son, Rem Koolhaas. Even the medieval St. Lawrence Church (a restoration) gets with 21st century pop culture and rings out the theme from 'Game of Thrones' with its bells.

Since last October however, design nerds and foodies have had a reason to make the one-hour pilgrimage from Amsterdam together, because Rotterdam's new Market Hall may just be the most stunningly beautiful and smartly designed, public food hall in the world.

Looking at it from the outside you don't realize this at first. The structure looks like the massive, curving grey hump of apartments and offices that it actually is. But viewed from another angle you begin to see the magnificent electronic 'mural' that canvasses the concave side of the building and arches over the food market beneath. "Awesome" isn't enough to describe it. Rembrandt's Night Watch may be huge, but this 11,000-sq meter wide, 40-meter tall ceiling is officially the largest piece of artwork in the Netherlands.

Designed by Dutch artist Arno Coenen, and titled "The Horn of Plenty", the work depicts vibrantly coloured fruit, vegetables, seeds, fish, flowers and insects. All of which was composed using digital 3D-techniques, separated into 4,000 pieces and then printed onto steel panels. Look again and you will notice that the design is perforated with rows of small cut-out squares. These are actually the windows of the apartments located on the interior side of the complex. Just think, residents can be sitting at their breakfast tables looking down at the market and deciding what to buy for supper.

See the 360 panorama of the space during construction here.

On the Market Hall floor the shops cover the gamut of traditional Dutch cuisine (cheese, bakeries, herring stalls), selections from other European countries (Spanish hams, Greek olives, French pastry) as well as numerous specialists such as organic butchers and doughnut franchises. Bars and restaurants, a kitchenware shop and a liquor store ring the perimeter. While below ground level, you'll find a large supermarket, drugstore, pay toilets, and surprisingly for a city that loves bicycles, parking spaces for 1,200 cars.

As we know, Vancouver has future plans for a permanent food market building of its own. With this ingenious example of how to use art and design to create a vital public space within the same footprint as multiple housing, Vancouver planners would be wise to follow Rotterdam's example.

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