From the early 20th century to the present day, the scars of automobile infrastructure define cities around the world. And while elevated highways, expansive parking lots and seemingly endless suburbs often dominate the landscape — particularly in North America — showrooms themselves offer a distilled manifestation of car culture and its consequences. In central Rotterdam, however, a new space for electric vehicle manufacturer NIO does away with the surface parking and sprawling big box sales floor in favour of a mixed-use urban hub.
Designed by local architects MVRDV, the versatile salon combines automotive retail with a street-fronting cafe, lounge, children’s play area and an art display zone, as well as work space. The 600-square-metre space was conceived as part of the Chinese automotive brand’s “NIO House” showroom concept, which integrates a modestly sized sales floor within a range of mixed-use environments, creating a relaxing — and low-pressure — space to learn about the company’s all-electric portfolio. (The project is the second NIO House designed by MVRDV, following NIO House Chongqing, which opened in 2019.)
Located on a marquee corner site along one of Rotterdam’s most prominent shopping streets, the space was pared down to the exposed concrete of the building’s structural columns, creating a ruggedly textured palette that complements the smooth, blonde wood surfaces within. While the simple wood and concrete finishes foster an elegantly airy ambiance, movable glass partitions allow the the versatile space to be reconfigured to suit a variety of needs.
In the heart of NIO House, the glass dividers (which are tucked behind the wood wall when not in use) can create a closed conference room and meeting space, where a showpiece “crane table” can be lowered from the ceiling via a pulley system. Conversely, the table can be paired with an open room for more casual settings, or tucked back along the ceiling to allow for additional floor seating.
And when the space is opened up, it seamlessly connects to the adjacent lounge area — accented by eye-catching blue furniture — and café counter. Nearby, a welcoming children’s space and a small art gallery area add further pops of colour. Alongside the café, part of the glass facade can also be removed to create an open-air environment that spills out onto the sidewalk.
“Combining the style of NIO with the attitude of the city of Rotterdam seems at first like a difficult challenge”, says MVRDV founding partner Jacob van Rijs. “Yet the more we thought about the character of both, the more overlap we saw. Underpinning both NIO’s and Rotterdam’s distinctive styles are a sense of optimism and progressivism. It’s this belief in — and comfort around — continuous change that inspired the design’s flexibility, from the table that rises up to the ceiling when not needed to the café bar that extends out into the street. Flexibility and adaptability are what we need in this day and age.”
As for the cars? Although there’s room for a handful of vehicles to be prominently displayed, the lion’s share of the space is given over to more sociable and educational spaces. Here, the car is an addendum to the urban experience.
Local designers MVRDV create a showroom where the car fits the city for electric manufacturer NIO.