BRINKMAN & VAN DER VLUGT, 1925-1931, Van Nelleweg 1, Rotterdam
Van Nellefabriek / Van Nelle Factory ( Brinkman & Van der Vlugt )
© 2006 Rook & Nagelkerke
Van der Vlugt became involved in the construction of this coffee, tea and tobacco factory after the death of Michiel Brinkman. At that point there existed only a broad zoning plan. The factory's design is in many ways revolutionary. Acknowledging the inventiveness of the young Van der Vlugt and his colleagues, this innovation is equally attributable to the dedication of the client, C.H. van der Leeuw. Besides optimum functioning of the factory, great emphasis was placed on providing improved working conditions for the employees.
The factory proper occupies three volumes of decreasing height, one of eight levels for tobacco, a coffee section of five levels with a double-height entresol, and a three-level tea department. These three factory zones are interlinked by volumes containing stairs, toilets, washrooms and space for lifts. Each stair tower has its own form of stair. At the rear of the tobacco section is a warehouse with a sawtooth roof. All three zones adjoin a main service route and are further connected by bridges (almost the hallmark of this factory) to a row along the water of dispatch and storage spaces, a cycle shelter, a boiler house and workshops.
The entrance to the grounds is marked by a freestanding office building whose facade follows the curve of the service route. A canteen and sport fields with a few small outhouses (now demolished) are spread across the rest of the site. The factory's concrete floor slabs are supported by concrete mushroom columns, leaving facades column-free, a condition borne out by continuous strips of fenestration which flood the work areas with daylight. The office building consists of a curved row of managerial offices, the remainder being housed in a row set square to the service route. The two portions are linked by a double-height open office zone with glazed partitions and glazed cubicles. The circular tea room on the roof of the tobacco factory section was added during construction to allow continued enjoyment of the view.
Mart Stam was a key collaborator on this venture. His contribution is probably most appreciable in the taut, supremely functional character of the whole. He disagreed with the more expressive forms of the office and the 'bonbon box' on the roof. Yet it is these elements, chiefly the work of Van der Vlugt, which give this functionalist masterpiece its architectural superiority. This combination of an objective functionalism and a humanist conception of architecture, an approach Van der Vlugt shared with Duiker, produced one of the absolute pinnacles of Modern Movement architecture in the Netherlands. Since Van Nelle's departure the building has been restored and now hosts a 'design factory'. The outhouses and boiler house have also been restored and are now occupied by architecture firms and a branch of the Netherlands Architecture Institute.