About De Meelfabriek
Flour was produced at a large scale in this imposing factory complex on the Zijlsingel from 1883 to 1988. The various types of grain were transported to the factory by boat over the city’s many canals. The ten structures that together form De Meelfabriek have been built on top of a bastion that was originally part of the city’s historical defensive fortifications.
Originally this was an empty strip of land surrounding the entire city, but it was turned into an industrial area during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. During the late twentieth century most of these structures were again removed, as the municipality wanted to encircle the historic city centre with a green belt of parks.
The complex of De Meelfabriek is now one of the few and most important remnants of Leiden’s rich industrial past. It’s one of the city’s largest historical landmarks, while also being a prominent part of Dutch industrial heritage.
A new owner
Project developer Ab van der Wiel purchased the abandoned complex in 1998, with the intention of preserving it and giving the structure a new purpose. In that approach, he was inspired by the old bulk cargo harbours in Manhattan. During the 1980s he became very impressed by how those former warehouses were turned into attractive lofts. When searching for similar properties in the Netherlands, Van der Wiel quickly found himself at De Meelfabriek in Leiden.
A new purpose
After years of preparation, the transformation of this historical landmark is finally set to begin in 2015. The master plan aims to turn it into a lively and fashionable part of Leiden’s cultural heart by opening it up to the public. To do so, homes, cafés, restaurants, a Mediterranean market, a hotel, office space for creative businesses, a spa & wellness centre and of course plenty of room for art and culture will be developed.
That master plan for De Meelfabriek consists of a very simple philosophy: save what is beautiful and unique – the basic, load-bearing structures – and replace some of the old façades with new exteriors full of windows. This ‘back to the bones’ principle essentially argues that the character of this factory complex can be found in its heart, in its load-bearing structure. At the same time, replacing the façades will give the old-fashioned, barely heated and badly isolated structures some modern-day comfort, transparency and elegance.
And ‘social engineering’ is crucial in that plan. De Meelfabriek must become a place that brings people together. The entire plan, which covers 43.000 m² of floor surface, has already been completely approved and is expected to take five years to be implemented. The Global Imaginations exhibition is thus the last opportunity for the public to visit and experience this important piece of industrial heritage in its original shape.
More information: demeelfabriek.nl