The Van Nelle factory is one of the outstanding industrial buildings of the Nieuwe Bouwen, the Modernist style of the Netherlands.
The Van Nelle company originated in 1782 when Johannes and Hendrica van Nelle established a shop in Rotterdam selling coffee, tea and tobacco. In the 19th century the family concern developed into a factory-based business processing raw materials obtained from its own plantations in Java.
By the early 1920s the company had no more space for expansion and its director C H van der Leeuw (1890-1973) commissioned the architects J A Brinkman (1902-49) and L C van der Vlugt (1894-1936) to design new premises. Van der Leeuw and Brinkman were both adherents of the Theosophical movement. The factory, built between 1925 and 1931 is characterised by its use of concrete mushroom columns and glass curtain walls. It is an 8-storey building, 300 m long, with separate sections for the processing of coffee, tea and tobacco. Raw materials of all kinds were lifted to the top of the building and moved by gravity from one process to another. The fire doors were designed to shut automatically by gravity. The factory included a canteen, a tea room on the roof, a cinema, a library and sporting facilities, and there were pot plants in every part of it.
At its peak more than 2,000 people were employed in what was regarded as a bright, hygienic place in which to work. Production ceased in the 1990s and an extensive programme of restoration began in 1998, providing light, air and space for contemporary workplaces. The building is open to visitors each September on European Heritage Days and regular tours are organised by UrbanGuides.