2009 - Daylight Symposium
DAYLIGHT AND MODERNITY: DESIGN AND REDESIGN OF THE VAN NELLE DESIGN FACTORY by Wessel de Jonge
Wessel de Jonge
DOCO MOMO International
In the modern movement daylight is a symbol for health, hygiene, leisure time and hope for a new transparent society. How are these qualities captured in the redevelopment of the Van Nelle Design Factory in Rotterdam (Brinkman & Van der Vlugt, 1925-30), Sanatorium Zonnestraal in Hilversum (Duiker, Bijvoet, 1928-31) and the Dutch pavilion at the Biennale in Venice, Italy (Rietveld, 1953-54).
The Van Nelle Ontwerpfabriek is considered an iconic building of Dutch Modernism. The building, completed in 1931, was used for the industrial processing of tea, coffee and tobacco. After its renovation and reopening in 2004, it now houses modern offices and business. The building is listed by the UNESCO as World Heritage Site.
Zonnestraal Sanatorium was completed in 1932. The building was designed to house tuberculosis patients. Work on recovery of the decaying buildings was completed in the summer of 2003. The main building is today used as a conference centre, and the other buildings as a rehabilitation centre.
During the Modern Movement, the transparency of buildings was a sort of cultural paradigm, a general idea which reflected a society that – so the architects thought – was equally transparent in its organization. This idea is reflected in the extensive use of glass in buildings. At Van Nelle, for example, the scheme of the building is totally defined by the use of daylight. The depth of the building was limited to 19 metres, a measure that was based on a simple calculation: Daylight would enter the workspaces from both sides, and even in the middle of the floor, workers should be able to perform their tasks under daylight conditions. So these very rational requirements and calculations led to an extraordinarily long and shallow factory building.
In Zonnestraal, things are more or less similar. The buildings are also very shallow, mostly not more than 7,5 metres. Zonnestraal was also unique in the respect that the patients were accommodated in small rooms. The normal practice in those days was to have 10 to 12 people together in a larger room. At Zonnestraal, in contrast, the rooms were only three metres deep, which meant that daylight could get in very well and cover the entire floor area, effectively killing the germs in the room.
Wessel de Jonge (1957) graduated in architecture at Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands, in 1985. He has been the co-founder of DOCO MOMO International and served as the Organization’s International Secretary and the editor of the DOCO MOMO International Journal from 1990–2002. As a practicing architect, Wessel de Jonge has restored buildings by several ‘masters’ of the Dutch Modern Movement; he has been in charge of the restoration of Gerrit Rietveld’s 1953 Biannual Pavilion in Venice (Italy), the restoration (in co-operation with Henket Architects) of the former Zonnestraal Sanatorium in Hilversum designed by Jan Duiker and of the large-scale rehabilitation project (in collaboration with Hubert- Jan Henkel) for the Van Nelle Design Factory in Rotterdam, designed by Brinkman & Van der Vlugt.