Henry van de Velde
Antwerp, Belgium, April 3rd, 1863 - Zürich, Switzerland, October 15th, 1957.
Henry van de Velde was an all-round artist: painter, decorator, designer and architect. He studied at the Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts, studying painting under Karel Verlat, and went on to Paris, where he took lessons from Charles Carolus-Duran. With Victor Horta, he is one of the originators of Art Nouveau in Belgium.
In 1889, he became a member of "Les Vingt". Henry van de Velde fell under the spell of the ideals of the English Arts and Crafts Movement and gave up painting in the early 1890s to devote himself entirely to Applied Arts and Architecture. Apart from designing pottery, furniture, clothing, jewellery, utensils and appliances, he published articles in various periodicals.
Van de Velde explicitly endorsed the significance and importance of the curved line, which would become so characteristic for Belgian Art Nouveau: 'La ligne est une force', he wrote, referring to the natural elementary power of the line.
Since 1891 Van de Velde avowed his belief in the "dynamographic play" of the Line, especially in his textile and furniture design. In 1895, he built himself a house in Uccle in English Arts & Craft style, with a strong predilection for sinuous curves which remind of plant motives.
With the creation of a series of interiors and furniture in 1896 for Samuel Bing's Art Nouveau Galleries in Paris, Van de Velde made an international breakthrough. He would be the first Art Nouveau artist to develop an abstract style derived from sinuous curves.
From 1900 onwards, he spent most of his time in Germany. After the First World War, he became a professor at the Ghent University (1926-1936), which commissioned the construction of a new building for the university library and the Higher Institute for Art History and Archaeology in 1933.
Straight lines, rounded corners and edges, large windows in metal frames and the shape of the Greek cross of the tower and the pond are characteristic for Van de Velde's architectural vocabulary of the thirties. The emphasis is on the comforting perfection of the Line.
The Book Tower was not the only university project Van de Velde and Gustave Magnel were part of. He was president of the college of architects for the university hospital and he was also responsible for the aesthetic aspects of the hospital's design.