The Netherlands has a new world icon. Today, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee awarded the Van Nellefabriek in Rotterdam World Heritage status. This is a worldwide acknowledgement of the unique and universal value of the former coffee, tea and tobacco factory. In the meantime, the factory has been used successfully for years as office premises and events venue, under the name Van Nelle Fabriek.
When the nomination file was submitted in January 2013, Minister Bussemaker of Education, Culture and Science predicted that the Netherlands had pure gold in its hands with the Van Nellefabriek: "This magnificent building is an example of how monuments can be preserved and kept alive for future generations. The necessary modifications have been made to the building, but the spirit of the olden days lives on in every sense."
Mayor Aboutaleb: "Rotterdam is undeniably the number one city of architecture in the Netherlands. I am therefore extremely proud of both our new and historic icons. The Van Nellefabriek is one of these icons. A building that was unique for its time in terms of the materials used and its shape, and way ahead of its time from a social perspective. The fact that the Van Nellefabriek has now been given the status of World Heritage Site is a gift for all future generations, something all Rotterdammers can be very proud of."
Internationally renowned architects like Norman Foster and Renzo Piano, and famous Rotterdam firms of architects such as OMA and MVRDV are making their mark on the city's modern architecture. However, Rotterdam also has some historic gems from the 'Nieuwe Bouwen' era. The newly awarded UNESCO status for the Van Nelle Fabriek (1925-1931) confirms that Rotterdam has a lot to offer in terms of architectural history.
The factory, which was designed and built in the 1920s, is a striking and characteristic example of modernism. The factory complex is made up of various connected buildings and is one of the highlights of 20th century industrial architecture. Shortly after it was built, prominent architects referred to the factory as 'the most beautiful spectacle of the modern age' (Le Corbusier, 1932) and 'a poem in steel and glass' (Robertson and Yerbury, 1930).
Commissioning party K. van der Leeuw and architects J.A. Brinkman and L.C. Van der Vlugt succeeded jointly in creating the 'ideal factory': functional, beautiful and open. Natural light was used to make the working conditions pleasant for the workers. This is evidence of employment practice with a concern for the physical and mental well-being of employees; in those days, this was not yet something people could take for granted in business.
10th World Heritage Site for the Netherlands
The award of World Heritage status to the Van Nellefabriek brings the total number of sites in the Kingdom of the Netherlands on the UNESCO World Heritage List to ten. It is Rotterdam's first World Heritage Site and the city is proud of it. Alderman Adriaan Visser: "Rotterdam is currently known mainly for its progressive new architecture, with such icons as the Markthal and De Rotterdam. We are also seeing a renewed interest in architecture from the past, and we are getting better at reusing old buildings. The fact that the Van Nelle Fabriek has now been given World Heritage status is a wonderful and well-deserved acknowledgment of this."
Van Nelle community
After production ceased in 1995, the then owner of the factory, Sara Lee/DE, together with the municipal authority, looked for a fitting new use for the building complex. With the sale to the CV Van Nelle Design Factory, a new 'Van Nelle community' arose. Director Roger Meertens: "As before, the current Van Nellefabriek is an inspiring working environment, where more than 80 businesses develop the most beautiful things on a daily basis and also where all kinds of national and international events take place: from Art Rotterdam to exclusive dance parties. In this way, we are again giving substance to the social-cultural function of what was at the time a progressive factory and commissioner Kees van der Leeuw's legacy of ideas."
The successful redevelopment of the factory took place between 1999-2006, under the direction of building concern VolkerWessels. Architect Wessel de Jonge acted as coordinating architect. UNESCO endorses the fact that the authenticity of the complex was preserved in all respects thanks to the painstaking restoration. A result that visitors and new business users of the Van Nellefabriek can clearly see and feel.
UNESCO meeting in Qatar
The Mayor of Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb, was there when the World Heritage status was awarded in Doha (Qatar), where the UNESCO World Heritage Committee is meeting this year from 15 to 25 June.