If you want to live in a giant cube house in central Rotterdam—one of the city’s most iconic structures—you might have to go to prison first. A local nonprofit redesigned the Supercube building, originally built by architect Piet Blom, to house ex-cons who are transitioning back to everyday life.
The Supercube is part of a "cube forest": Most of the complex is made up of bright yellow box-shaped homes perched like trees on concrete poles. The apartments have always been popular places to live. But the bigger Supercubes, originally intended for businesses, had trouble attracting tenants until recently; the spaces were hard to access from the street, uncomfortably hot, and dimly lit.
For about 30 years—or basically almost the entire time since it was originally built—the last Supercube was vacant and occupied by a series of squatters. But when the nonprofit Exodus Foundation started looking for a new residence for former prisoners, they realized the building could be the perfect fit after a redesign.
The Supercube had one big advantage: An ideal location. "It’s in the heart of the city, which was an important criteria for the organization," says Erik Groenendijk from Personal Architecture, the firm that reworked the design. "It’s not that easy to find an empty lot where you can build a new building in this part of Rotterdam."
To bring light to the dark interior, the architects added a rectangular shaft that goes through the whole building from the roof to the bottom floor. Sunlight pours in to reach the lower floors, while cool air circulates to keep the building more comfortable.
The shaft also makes the entire building more open, so residents are more likely to see each other and interact—something that staff say rarely happened in the old building, where the former prisoners tended to each stay inside their own rooms. The rooms are also on a middle floor between public spaces at the top and bottom of the building, so people have even more chances to run into each other and build relationships.
After going through a selection process, 20 recently released prisoners—both men and women—can live in the Supercube at one time, staying for a program that lasts from six to 12 months before living on their own. The Exodus Foundation helps each resident find jobs at nearby businesses. And though everyone is free to come and go and much as they like, it's easy to see why the former prisoners would want to hang out at home: This is about as far from a fluorescent-lit concrete prison cell as possible.