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BOOK

REVIEW

Van Nelle: Monument in Progress Uitgeverij De Hef Publishers, 2005.294pp. .69.90 (£47)

With its gleaming curtain wall and tremendous dynamism, the Van Nelle factory, by a canal on the outskirts of Rotterdam, is one of the Modern Movement's great early monuments, writes Andrew Mead.

Designed by Brinkman and Van der Vlugt with Mart Stam, and largely completed by 1930, this huge plant for processing tea, coffee and tobacco continued to function - with changes of ownership and a shrinking workforce - until the mid-1990s, when its future became pressing. Partly converted and renovated, it is now the Van Nelle Design Factory, housing 50 or more businesses and several architectural practices (though one prospective lessee, the wonderfully named Now & Wow nightclub, sadly fell by the wayside).

So the subtitle of this bulky book, 'monument in progress', is spot on, and all the issues around the Van Nelle's re-use are just one strand of an enormously thorough account of the building's past and present. In scope and detail, it rivals Karel Ksandr's benchmark book on Loos' Villa Muller.

En route it addresses questions of authorship (how involved was Mart Stam? );

puts the Van Nelle factory in context with Brinkman and Van der Vlugt's other work and Modernism generally; explains construction and re-use with plenty of technical detail;

and marshals a wide range of images, old and new, to become visually enticing. For many buildings such treatment could be overkill, but this minimonument is something that the Van Nelle deserves.

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