transformation of an old factory

In the heart of the vibrant Delfshaven district on the banks of the Schie in Rotterdam lies a distinctive old factory complex that over the years had lost much of its sheen and vitality. Years of vacancy and neglect had thrown the ensemble of characteristic buildings, which had grown into one another, into an almost irreversible process of deterioration. The exterior of the former steam laundry has two distinctive fronts: to the street a row of traditional dike houses, and to the River Schie a factory-looking front complete with tall chimney.

The Delfshaven district is a charming mixture of social housing and elegantly monumental structures. People who live there want to stay there. And the same goes for those who work there. That is why the Stichting Havensteder decided to transform one of the most striking buildings – The Delfshaven Factory – into a multi-tenant complex for small, creative and individualist entrepreneurs. To make the most of the opportunity, they immediately sat around the table with concept developer Lingotto, Mei and the contractor, and together they set out to preserve this monumental complex. Much of the design work was done in real-time during the building process because surprises often came to light only after removing layers during renovation.

The strategic design by Mei was based on preserving the existing aesthetic, cultural-historical and structural quality. The approach involved consolidating and strengthening these historical elements, which were then incorporated into the scheme for the complex’s conversion into a series of small-scale and flexible commercial units. The collapsed and dilapidated section was replaced by an atrium.

The completed complex contains 36 unique commercial spaces and a large hall that can host a range of activities. Also included are amenities for the neighbourhood, including two restaurants, a yoga studio and a creative out-of-school facility for children. Commercial spaces are flexible in layout and can be joined together if desired. A central, well-lit atrium occupies the place where the original middle section had collapsed and now forms the dynamic heart of the four-level factory. The atrium serves a range of purposes: circulation space (including stairs and a lift), public space with shared amenities such as lunch areas, meeting islands and swinging seats. Daylight penetrates deep into the building through the new glasshouse roof. Glazing sections between the commercial units and the atrium create an openness and transparency that facilitates maximum synergy with other occupants and stimulates collaboration.

The atrium makes use of the characteristic facade openings that have been preserved. Additions such as the steel structure in the atrium are minimalist and feature a uniform colour palette to preserve the existing spatial quality. Bronze-coloured facades that harmonise with the streetscape characterise the new additions. Crowning the atrium is an industrial glasshouse roof that can be opened in the summer. Many of the materials used, such as plasterboard, steel and glass, are sustainable and recyclable and come with Cradle-to-Cradle certifications.

The Factory responds optimally to the needs of local young entrepreneurs thanks to the functional and flexible rental units, as evidenced by the waiting list for new tenants. The success of neighbourhood amenities also illustrates the strong local anchoring in the Delfshaven district.

Project sheet Fabriek Delfshaven (11 MB) download