Van Nelle Fabriek (Van Nelle Factory)

Van Nelle Fabriek (Van Nelle Factory) is part of the Tentative List in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.

Click here for a short description of the site, as delivered by the State Party

Year Decision Comments
1995 Tentative list Submitted as tentative site by State Party


Els Slots (The Netherlands):
Unesco hasn’t updated the Dutch Tentative List yet, but fortunately the Van Nelle Factory appears on both the old and the new lists. It also will be one of the first sites that the Netherlands plans to nominate in the coming years.

The Van Nelle Factory is the number 1 landmark of the Modern Movement in Architecture in the Netherlands. It is located in Rotterdam and was built between 1925 and 1931. The factory used to produce tea, coffee and tobacco. Its huge floor space is now rented out to offices.

I visited it on Open Monuments Day 2011 (September 10th). During the rest of the year it is pretty difficult to get in, except when you’re prepared to fork out 100 EUR for an exclusive group tour. The factory complex is very large. Nowadays it is only one of many industrial buildings at this location. But when it was constructed, it occupied a large spot in a pristine polder landscape. There was plenty of space for the architects to deliver all ideas, including sport fields and a garden for the factory workers.

Architecture students guide the tours around the complex. A group of about 20 interested persons had already shown up a little after 10 in the morning. Among them there even was a fellow world heritage spotter, Peter, – who was so clever to recognize me!

The first part of the tour covered the outside of the complex. Here the skybridges are the main focus of attention. They were used to transport the products between factory and storage facilities. Their sharp lines are visually very attractive. Another notable exterior feature is the display of the name “Van Nelle” – a clever way of advertising the brand to everyone that passes the building complex which is near a major road and the railway.

Fortunately we were allowed to get inside the main building too. Somehow it reminded me of a school. The long hallways, the open views into the rooms, offices and even the toilets.

I am not a specialist in (modern) architecture, so it is difficult to say for me if the Van Nelle Factory merits WH status or not. A comparison to the Fagus Factory that got into the List earlier this year is quite obvious. Both are constructions that were used as factories, and both use the concept of glass “walls” or “curtains”. The Fagus Factory is from an earlier generation however. And it is still in use as a factory. Especially that connection is what the Van Nelle Factory lacks – nothing reminds us of the actual tea, coffee and tobacco production, the smells, the working conditions. It is an important work of architecture, that has to get in on that merit alone.
Date posted: September 2011

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