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Review

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Benthem Crouwel 1980-2000 010 Publishers, 2000. 304pp. £42

We see so much good quality architecture from the Netherlands that it is tempting to believe that nothing mediocre is produced there, writes Gerry McLean . This new book on Benthem Crouwel will dispel such thoughts. It is comforting to know that an ordinary large-scale commercial practice, working on cargo terminals, shopping centres and car parks, can be as limited in ambition in Holland as here, just as it is a relief when a Brazilian winger signs for Hartlepool and turns out to be no better than a local boy would have been.

The book is large - 28cm square, 3.5cm thick - creating space for huge but ordinary photographs of huge but ordinary buildings.

Most of the 2.5kg of paper is devoted to photographs, although occasionally a completely unreadable plan will be spread across two pages.

3D computer images take up some space and are clearer than the plans and sections; these are pleasingly primitive, not intended to seduce.

Unwisely, most of the projects that the practice has done are covered; few firms could stand such scrutiny, and Benthem Crouwel might have struggled to fill 50 pages of this size with genuinely interesting work.

Each of the five sections - Living, Working, Shopping, Travelling and Visiting - is prefaced by an oddly translated essay lauding the practice's achievements. Across the last four sections there is a blurring of categories. The practice designed most of the facilities in and around Schipol Airport (see picture) and those who have used Schipol will recognise the difficulty - well represented in the book - of separating the concourse from the shopping mall from the transit links.

The section on residential accommodation is more clearly circumscribed, but its value is confined to three late Modern private houses, two of which the architects built for themselves.

Crouwel's, for instance, is a steel-and-glass addition to a brick holiday house which Gerrit Rietveld designed in 1951.These buildings take advantage of their siting in a way that little else in the book seems to do, but accomplish nothing which will be unfamiliar to those who follow British house design.

Overall, one gets an impression of confused intentions, crude imagery and tentatively used primary colours. Some sense of adventure is evident, but the result never gets far beyond the 'premium shed' type of commercial/ industrial building allowed by British planners in business parks outside historic towns.

Gerry McLean is an architect in London

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