The colossal mirrored bowl of the Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen costs a fortune to clean and has upset a neighbouring hospital. So how are locals finding it?

Inspiration often strikes at lunch in the office of Dutch architects MVRDV. It’s the one moment in the day when everyone breaks from their screens and comes together around a long communal dining table, spread with assorted salads, to eat and chat. One fateful day in 2013, during a lunchtime brainstorming session, the tableware would prove to be more inspirational than ever. Eight years on, a monumental Ikea salad bowl has been added to the Rotterdam skyline – a €3.99 Blanda Blank rising 40 metres high.

“I was looking for something round,” says Winy Maas, the puckish frontman of MVRDV, describing the origins of the Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen. This €94m (£80m) open archive for the city’s art museum now stands as a colossal mirrored bowl in Rotterdam’s Museumpark, reflecting the surroundings in a surreal panorama. “The interns had put a big rectangular block of Styrofoam on the site model,” Maas recalls. “It was too rude. I thought something round would be nicer to our neighbours, so I replaced it with a mug. Then we wanted to reduce the footprint, so I grabbed the stainless steel bowl, with its nice mirroring aspect. That was it.”

Such is the design process in an office founded on whimsical spectacle. Maas revels in turning models upside down, or grabbing whatever is to hand and adding it to the mix. One project began as a cluster of blocks before he draped a cloth over the model, turning it into a lumpy hill. Another building, with house-sized blocks dramatically cantilevered from its side, was the result of a model of a grid of little towers being mistakenly placed horizontally on the table. The comical process is intrinsic to the practice’s quirky Superdutch brand, and key to their global exportability. (For the Depot launch, a dedicated press conference was held in Chinese.) As architectural slapstick, their work transcends cultural boundaries.

Rotterdam, Maas thinks, is particularly suited to such eccentric form-making. “It is not a city with regular urbanism,” he says. It was flattened in the second world war, and the decades since have seen all manner of strange experiments, from rotated cube-houses on stilts to MVRDV’s own elephantine market hall (another result of a model being turned upside down). “It’s about making objects. Every generation makes its mark, and the next reacts.”

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