“It must still look good in 25 years time,” said Kees van der Leeuw, a partner of Van Nelle, when he commissioned the design for a new factory complex for the processing of coffee, tea and tobacco in 1923. The assignment was more than a success. Even in the present day, the Van Nelle Factory of Rotterdam still looks surprisingly contemporary. Between 1925 and 1928, architects Brinkman & Van der Vlugt designed a business complex that would become an important exponent of Dutch functional architecture [Nieuw Zakelijke Architectuur]. Building was begun in 1926 and finished in 1931, when the growth of the factory stagnated because, in the meantime, the economic tide began to turn.
The centrally located 220-metre long tobacco factory counts eight storeys. The design is straight and rhythmic. Functionalistic. The building is connected to the dispatch areas alongside the Delfshaven Schie and the curved office building at the entrance to the complex via elevated bridges. A further two smaller factory buildings, a warehouse and a boiler house make up the entirety of the complex. One of the showy architectonic elements is the circular, glass boardroom and adjoining tearoom on the roof of the tobacco factory, which many citizens of Rotterdam have slyly dubbed the 'sweety box'
‘Absolute purity’ The application of a concrete column structure following the mushroom principle resulted in very thin, beamless floors. This technique, ultramodern at the time, made it possible to include an additional storey in the maximum construction height. Since the outer walls were non-supporting, they could, for the most part, be manufactured from glass, with thin, steel frames. The huge amount of daylight that streamed in through the glass meant that dark factory building that were uncomfortable to work in became a thing of the past. The new factory was based entirely on ‘the person’ and would become a monument to progress. The entire complex is permeated with the idea of light, air and space.
And that’s not all; it’s very aesthetic too. When French architect Le Corbusier visited the building in 1932, he described it as ‘the most beautiful sight of the modern age' and ‘sparkling evidence of the life that is yet to come, of clean, absolute purity.’ The complex is a crystallisation point of economic, technical, social and even philosophical developments, and has retained its character to the present day. Even after 2000, when it was transformed from a business where coffee was roasted, tobacco was cut and tea prepared, into an inspirational village in design: the Design Factory [Ontwerpfabriek].
The Van Nelle Factory is internationally recognised as one of the finest examples of Het Nieuwe Bouwen [Dutch functionalism] in the Netherlands. and it is from that perspective that its award for the UNESCO World Heritage list should be viewed.
Van Nellefabriek in Rotterdam is UNESCO World heritage
Van Nelleweg, 1 3044 BC Rotterdam
Project Phase: Completed
Function category: Amsterdamse Ballast Maatschappij