Headquarters and warehouse for chemical group
The British chemical group ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd.) grew rapidly after the Second World War. A headquarters in Rotterdam was deemed necessary and the company even operated from a ship for a short period before moving into an office building on Koningin Emmaplein. Soon it became clear that this building
was too small. Architect Kees Elffers (1898-1987) designed the new headquarters on a prominent site on
Leuvehaven. It even offers a view of the Nieuwe Maas from the top floor, the fifth, which housed the management offices and canteen. The building was a combination of warehouse, distribution centre and sales office. It also housed a garage for the maintenance of its fleet of trucks. To deal with the shortage of hotel accommodation in post-war Rotterdam, the building even contained two guest rooms.
Recently completed close to the site where Zadkine’s sculpture for a destroyed city will soon rise is a six-floor structure that makes an important contribution to the reconstruction of Rotterdam centre. From outside you don’t see anything remarkable, yet inside the building, constructed for Imperial Chemical Industries on Wijnhaven, is full of surprises. They start as soon as you enter the ICI, since in the entrance the porter has been replaced by a telephone receiver. Lift it up and a lady tells you which floor you have to exit the lift.
De Tĳd, 20 May 1952
Anything but old-fashioned
Architect Elffers was chosen on the strength of the warehouses he designed shortly after the war a little further along Wijnhaven. Here, however, he did not go for archaic facades but for something far from old-fashioned. His sleek contemporary warehouse was extremely modern because of the use of forklift trucks. The four warehouse floors consisted almost entirely of an open space measuring 45 by 18 metres that could be freely arranged, interrupted by nothing but the columns necessary for the concrete structure. Now regarded as completely normal, flexibility was exceptional back then. Small parts of these floors served other purposes: on the ground floor a canteen with a wash area and locker room, on the first floor a caretaker’s home, and on the second floor the guest rooms. Various administrative departments and laboratories occupied the fourth and fifth floors. The offices were also grouped in one large office space.
Colouring agents, synthetic resins, pharmaceutical products, plastics and what not are transported all around the country from here. Twelve thousand different chemicals are produced in the English ICI factories, three thousand of which find their way to the Netherlands, first to the Rotterdam building, which is 40 metres long, 18 metres wide and 26 metres tall. It features all the latest gadgets, in terms of both district heating and transport. Employees can use canteens, showers, cloakrooms and other facilities. Everything possible has been done to make the work as pleasant as possible.
Het Vrĳe Volk, 19 May 1952
The building is faced in polished Italian travertine, which prevents the facades from turning black. The material also blends with the bright facade of the Amsterdamse bank/Incassobank. The 1,210 square metres of stone was an ‘expensive luxury’ in post-war Rotterdam. The horizontally pivoted windows are set in frames of decorative concrete. The facades of the warehouse and office areas are detailed in the same way so that the storage space can eventually be converted into office space. The interior featured plenty of dark-green acrylic, an ICI product.
The firm grew steadily during the post-war years, in part owing to the rise in the use of synthetics. In the early 1960s a number of large factory complexes were constructed in Rozenburg. By the late 1980s, ICI employed some 128,000 people around the world. The building was renovated in 1988, with all floors converted into offices to prepare it for the modern age. Connections for telephones, personal computers and printers have been installed in all office areas, allowing staff to move around with ease. ICI left Rotterdam in 1999. In 2007 the company was taken over by Akzo Nobel. The Wijnhaven building was occupied for a time by an employment agency. It was acquired in 2008 by the Hogeschool Rotterdam (University of Applied Sciences), which also purchased the Grain Warehouse. The ICI complex is a designated city heritage site.