Words: Alice Roegholt

"For the labourer who has lived for so long without beauty, nothing is beautiful enough."

In 1901, it was decided that there must be better housing for the working class of Amsterdam. New regulations allowed unions to borrow money from the government in order to build this new wave of social housing, and construction was undertaken by the housing associations on a grand scale in the period between the First and Second World Wars, when Amsterdam expanded its city planning to accommodate its growing population. This expansion became known as the ‘ring 20-40’, and included Plan West, Plan South and the garden villages in the North. Amsterdam School architecture was chosen as the style that these new developments would take, not only in Amsterdam, but also in the rest of the Netherlands.

What is the Amsterdam School? 

Read on to explore the complexity and the craft work of the architecture of the Amsterdam School, and discover the undulating facades, the expressive brickwork, and the humorous details hidden within these Amsterdam monuments. 

Worker's palace Het Schip

Year of construction: 1919

The world famous Arbeiderspaleis Het Schip, was built in 1919 by architect Michel de Klerk at Spaarndammerplantsoen. It was here that de Klerk built a meeting house and a post office for the housing association (Eigen Haard 102 house). The building earned its nickname 'Het Schip' (The Ship) because of its expressive masonry and wavy shapes. Due to its towers and grand gateway, it also has also the feel of a grand palace. The Amsterdam School Museum ‘het Schip’ gives guided tours around the building and exhibits art of the Amsterdam School movement

Het Schip museum Amsterdam Merijn Roubroeks

De Dageraad

Year of construction: 1917

In 1917 architect Hendrik Berlage renewed the image of Amsterdam by introducing  young architects and artisans from the Amsterdam School to Amsterdam's southern neighbourhoods. These designers rejuvenated the visual language and expression of the constructions erected by the municipality. De Dageraad (The Dawn) is a complex built by the social housing association and its name, drawn from the symbolism of a rising sun, is a reference to the socialist movement that Amsterdam experienced during this period. The complex was designed by two of the founding fathers of the Amsterdam School: the architects Piet Kramer and Michel de Klerk. Between them, the two men designed residential and commercial buildings as well as two parks, and as an after- thought, the Coöperatiehof built a library. The visitor centre of De Dageraad offers guided tours of the building and houses a film exhibition that focuses on the Amsterdam School movement. 

Amsterdam school architecture Dageraad

Het Scheepvaarthuis

Year of construction: 1913-1928

Arguably the most impressive building from the Amsterdam School is Het Scheepvaarthuis, which currently functions as the Grand Hotel Amrâth. This building was designed by architect Joan van der Meij in  collaboration with his friends Michel de Klerk and Piet Kramer. Many artists specialising in the decorative arts were involved with the construction of Het Scheepvaarthuis. Through their artistry, they portrayed the history of the Amsterdam shipping industry. Their craft work can be seen over the entire building in several different mediums including wood work, sculpture, stained glass, brick work and alloy. Interior pieces, such as furniture and lamps, were also designed by the architects and artists.  As an all embracing art form, Het Scheepvaarthuis represents the shipping history of Amsterdam through its wondrous imagery. Guided tours are available.

Tuindorp Oostzaan

Year of construction: 1932

In comparison to other neighbourhoods, Tuindorp Oostzaan in Amsterdam North is characteristically rural. In 1932 architect J.H. Mulder built this neighbourhood with ample vegetation, trees and green space. At this time, the ideal house was designed for a single family and had a little front yard. The officials of other industrialised cities in the Netherlands were uneasy about the consequences of industrialisation, which included large scale construction, stinky smells from the factories, and monotonous uniformity of the buildings. The Tuindorp was therefore a solution to these fears, and was developed to provide fresh air and lovely, low rent housing for working class families. The small scale of the building project stimulated the feeling of solidarity. The builders erected attractive walls of mortared brick, and embellished entrances with floating pillars. In the neighbourhood’s central location, Zonneplein, the municipal building Zonnehuis still stands. 

Zonnehuis Amsterdam Museum Het Schip

The P.L. Kramer Bridge

Year of construction: 1921

Amsterdam has many old fashioned bridges, with the Magere bridge being perhaps the most well-known. The Amsterdam School architects were fixated on the tradition of bridge building, and were attentive to the design of the bridges. Architect Piet Kramer worked as the aesthetic advisor for the Municipality of Amsterdam and designed more than 200 bridges throughout the city; at Leidsestraat, Vijzelstraat, the Stadhouderskade, and also at Amsterdamse Bos (Amsterdam Forest). The bridges are recognisable from the master iron work and fanciful sculpture of Dutch sculptor Hildo Krop. The most beautiful bridge, the P.L. Kramer bridge, goes over the Noorder Amstel canal next to the Amsteldijk. This bridge has a little artisanal bridge house and is adorned with multiple sculptures created by of Krop. Figures of seals and knights are eternally posing at the base of the bridge, and some say that they are there to protect the Amstel river. 

PL Kramerbrug Amsterdam Museum Het Schip

Het Nieuwe Huis

Year of construction: 1928

The cooperative housing association Het Nieuwe Huis (New House) on Roelof Hart Square was founded in 1918 by Mrs. A.E.M.C. Kruys (its completion was in 1928) in order to improve the living situation of single people. Architect Barend van den Nieuwen Amstel designed 169 apartments, a number of shops, a library and a post office. It continues to function as an apartment complex where single people are granted freedom and comfort. The building was commissioned under the supervision of the housing association, The Samenwerking. With government support, the plan for a central kitchen and restaurant was taken on. This way, all of the bachelors and bachelorettes could eat together in their own dining hall. Today, the restaurant is closed and the space has been expanded into a public library. 

Het Nieuwe Huis Amsterdam Museum Het Schip

Het Sieraad

Year of construction: 1921

Het Sieraad was designed by architect A.J. Westerman and built in 1921. The building is surrounded on two sides by the Kostverlorenvaart, and the height distribution forms a balanced interplay across the corner of the building, which is a well -known trait of the Amsterdam School. The entrance is embellished with a wrought iron front door, and the building is richly decorated with lamps, ornaments and sculpture work from Hildo Krop. The two most important Amsterdam School materials, bricks and wrought iron, are heavily used. Today the building is a hub for the creative industries.

De Vrijheidslaan

Year of construction: 1921

De Vrijheidslaan runs from the Berlage Bridge, past the first skyscraper ever erected in the Netherlands, and ends at the southern district of the city. In 1921, 70 of Amsterdam’s entrepreneurial builders  worked together with Amstel’s building association on in this neighbourhood. At this point in the Amsterdam School movement, architects were designing the facades of various residential blocks. Although several architects worked on the design of the Vrijheidslaan, the overall vision of it is one cohesive unit; in the same instance, each individual building has a unique facade. In the block built by de Klerk you will see his infamous balconies, which give the lane a warm, urban allure. The dynamic zigzag pattern that jots across the buildings is in perfect tempo with the traffic racing past, but is an altogether different image for the people walking slowly by. 

Vrijheidslaan Amsterdam CC BY 2.0 Alper Gucun via Flickr

Het Hoofddorpplein

Year of construction: 1926

The Hoofdorpplein was built in 1926 by Joan Melchior van der Meij and Co Franswa. It became commonly known as het turbineplein, as every side takes a different shape. But despite this, the square maintains a unified consistency because colour and composition remain similar - with Norwegian slate being a noteworthy component of the facade. The square also has a tower designed by Van der Meij. This tower gave an exciting focal point to the square, but unfortunately it was later demolished. Other elements of the original architecture remain and have been restored, like the wrought iron and the elevated pillars. 

Het Hoofdorpplein Henk Bezemer CC By SA 4.0 via Wikimedia

Het Muzenplein

Year of construction: 1931

Het Muzenplein is a small, conclealed garden at a canal crossroads in Amsterdam South. It lies between two bridges, with sculpture work by Hildo Krop on both. Because people criticised the fact that Krop had had the opportunity to do so much work for the city of Amsterdam, other artists were also given a chance. In order to keep the project aesthetically unified, artists were given specific instructions on the size, material and themes that were to be used in their creations. Nine famous Dutch artists recieved the image of a child to design. Every child was portrayed with a toy or an animal, and the children of Krop posed for two of the sculptures. At the highest point of the bridge you can see a rearing horse with a small girl below it; this sculpture was created by Krop, and is meant to symbolise the “open- mindedness of people toward life.” 

Het Muzenplein Amsterdam Guilhem Vellut via Flickr