Interviews, Essays, Etc.

Right from the Beginning—and Still True Today
August 16, 2011

When Wim Crouwel was interviewed a few years ago by AIGA/NY using the Proust Questionnaire, his reply to the question “What is your most treasured possession?” was “My library.”* That answer caught our attention.

Between the closing (July 2011) at the Design Museum in London of a major retrospective spanning more than 60 years of his celebrated work in typography and graphic design, and the opening of that exhibition at its next venue, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam on August 13, 2011, Crouwel generously agreed to answer some questions from us about his library and his books.

Designers & Books: We were impressed by the photo of your library that you sent along to us. Can you give us an approximate idea of the number of books in your collection?

Wim Crouwel: My rough calculation would be 1,500 books on graphic design, 900 on industrial design, and 500 on architecture. My wife’s books (she is an art historian) are also in the library. She has 1,500 books on art and art history, 300 on photography, and 1,200 fiction titles. The bookcases in the library, by the way, are my design.

Wim Crouwel's library, 2011
Wim Crouwel’s library, 2011

D&B: Your wife has a substantial collection of fiction. You have said that you are primarily interested in books on design and architecture. But do you ever read fiction? And if so, can you mention some novels that have inspired you in any way?

WC: I sometimes read fiction. Novels of significance to me include Buddenbrooks: Verfall einer Familie (Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family), by Thomas Mann; and The Discovery of Heaven, by Harry Mulisch.

D&B: You mentioned you have a particular interest in biographies, and there are two on the book list you gave us: one on Charles and Ray Eames and one on Mies van der Rohe. Since this genre is important to you, are there any other biographies that you are particularly drawn to?

WC: I can name a few others. Paul Renner: The Art of Typography, by Christopher Burke; Josef Müller-Brockmann, by Kerry William Purcell; Henry van de Velde, by Klaus-Jürgen Sembach; and Piet Mondrian: Life and Work, by Michel Seuphor.

D&B: One of the great things about books is that there are many levels on which to appreciate them. Can you tell us two of three books in your library that you like simply because they are beautiful as design objects?

WC: Of course there are some books whose design I admire. Three examples are Schiff nach Europa, by Marcus Kutter and designed by Karl Gerstner—which is on my Designers & Books list; Quist: De magie van de ratio (Quist: The Magic of the Ratio), by Auke van der Woud, designed by Reynoud Homan; and Sheila Hicks: Weaving as Metaphor, edited by Nina Stritzler-Levine and designed by Irma Boom.

D&B: How do you find new books to read? From friends? From reviews?

WC: Mainly from reviews, but I also visit bookshops.

D&B: Do you have a favorite bookstore—either in Amsterdam or elsewhere?

WC: These days I mostly go to one specialized bookstore, a favorite: Nijhof & Lee in Amsterdam.

D&B: When did you start your library and begin collecting books? As a student? When you started teaching?

WC: I started as soon as I earned some money, around 1953, shortly after I moved to Amsterdam.

D&B: Over the 50 or 60 years you’ve been adding to your library, have the subject areas of books that you are interested in changed at all?

WC: No, my interests haven’t really changed at all. Right from the beginning I was interested in graphic design, industrial design, art and architecture—and that is still true today.

D&B: Throughout your career you’ve designed many books and exhibition catalogues. And you continue to do this—for example, the monograph on Gerrit Rietveld you recently designed for Phaidon. But you’ve never written a book yourself. Have you ever been tempted to?

WC: I have written many introductions and articles, but always as a result of my work. I have never found the inspiration or time to write a book. I don’t think it will happen.

D&B: One last question. Can you tell us what are you reading at the moment?

WC: Currently my head is empty. I am on holiday.

Note: “
Wim Crouwel: A Graphic Odyssey” will be on view at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, through October 10, 2011.

The exhibition was previously on view at the Design Museum, London (March 30–July 3, 2011) for which Designers & Books commentator Rick Poynor interviewed Wim Crouwel (



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