An ideal workplace
Brinkman & Van der Vlugt was one of the most important and most successful Dutch architecture practices in the inter-war years and was the leading exponent of Functionalist architecture in the Netherlands. Tea, coffee and tobacco manufacturer Van Nelle was Brinkman & Van der Vlugt’s most important client in its early years. The Rotterdam-based practice designed not only the Van Nelle Factory in Rotterdam, but also the company’s branches in Leiden and Utrecht. In addition, the directors of Van Nelle, including Cees van der Leeuw and Albertus Sonneveld, commissioned the practice to design their own houses. Together with the Van Nelle Factory, Van der Leeuw House and Sonneveld House, are among the icons of Functionalist architecture in the Netherlands.
When Brinkman & Van der Vlugt began work on the Van Nelle Factory, one of the stipulations for the design was that it should still look modern twenty-five years later. But most importantly the factory had to be the ideal workplace, both in terms of production facilities and working conditions. The latter was especially important. Cees van der Leeuw, the director in charge of the commission, had very outspoken views on this matter: as a theosophist he considered it his personal mission to improve society. When looking for alternative sites for the company’s stifling Leuvenhaven factory in 1914, his eye fell on an area of reclaimed land on the Delfshavensche Schie. He saw it as an outstanding opportunity: the factory would be visible from various sides and from the railway – good for advertising – and there would be space for workers’ housing and modern amenities such as sports fields and a garden. The shop floor had to be light and soothing and the employees should be able to see outside the building. Brinkman & Van der Vlugt found the solution in modern materials: they created a building with generous amounts of glass in the facades.
N.P. de Koo, KP1428 ashtray, 1929, collection Glasmuseum Leerdam (Enrichment)
The National Archives of the Netherlands contains more than 4000 photos taken by workspace inspectors between 1900 and 1950 to expose poor working conditions, child labour, dangerous situations and occupational diseases. A selection can be seen on the Flickr page of the National Archives.
Cees van der Leeuw in de serie Rotterdammers van formaat. Cees van der Leeuw featured in an RTV Rijnmond series about notable figures from Rotterdam.