Standing prominently on Dam Square, the Royal Palace might be the city’s most famous repurposed building. Designed by Jacob van Campen, and built between 1648 and 1665, the building first functioned as Amsterdam’s city hall. In 1808, King Louis Napoleon made this building his official residence for a short time, and redecorated it in French Empire style. Visit the Royal Palace for a glimpse into how the other half lived and explore one of the current exhibitions. The Royal Palace is still used by royal family for official functions.
Built in 1880, this majestic church on the Weteringschans was used by a Dutch religious group until 1965. In 1967, after two years empty, the building was squatted by hippies who wanted to turn the church into a cultural centre. They christened it the 'cosmisch ontspannings centrum Paradiso' (cosmic relaxation centre Paradiso) and opened its doors in 1968 to the public. Paradiso became a proper venue in 1982 when it started hosting more big name concerts and events. Visit the Paradiso website for up-to-date concert and club listings.
Melkweg & Sugar Factory
This large sugar refinery was built near Amsterdam's Leidseplein in the 18th century. In 1920, the company declared bankruptcy and part of the factory was sold to a milk company that used the building to store and distribute fresh milk. A theatre group transformed the space in 1970 into a meeting place and performance venue. With a nod to its former function, the space was dubbed the Melkweg (Milky Way) and became instantly popular with locals and visitors. The has expanded to include multiple stages, a cinema, exhibition space and restaurant; for current showtimes and information, visit the Melkweg website.
Across from the Melkweg stands the Sugar Factory, a building once part of the original sugar refinery. For nearly a decade, the building served as rehearsal space for the Nederlandse Opera until they relocated to the Stopera building (home of Nationale Opera & Ballet) on Waterlooplein. In 2005, the building was reborn as Sugar Factory, a platform for performances, art and dance music.
Het Scheepvaartmuseum (National Maritime Museum)
Amsterdam’s National Maritime Museum is located in what was once 's Lands Zeemagazijn (the Arsenal) of the Dutch navy. It was designed by Daniël Stalpaert around 1656, and acted as a warehouse to store cannons, sails, flags and other equipment through the 1970s. In April 1973, it opened to the public as Het Scheepvaartmuseum (National Maritime Museum) featuring exhibitions on the Netherlands storied relationship with the sea. From 2009 to 2011, the museum underwent a major facelift including a new high-drama glass and metal roof worth the ticket price alone.
In 1680, a wealthy merchant left his fortune to the Deanery of Amsterdam. The Deanery donated a portion of this inheritance to create the Amstelhof, a residence for elderly women. By 2007, all of the residents were relocated to more modern facilities and the building went through extensive renovations. It reopened in 2009 as the Hermitage Amsterdam, an offshoot of the acclaimed State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Many elements have been preserved to remind visitors of the location’s former function; in the Amstel Wing you'll find a permanent exhibition on the history of patient care in Amsterdam.
In 1824, King Willem I set up the Nederlandsche Handel Maatschappij (Dutch Trading Company) to stimulate commerce and boost the struggling Dutch economy. The building of De Bazel was commissioned to be used as the head office and was completed in 1926. The organisation’s original focus was trading colonial products, but over time it turned its attention to banking – evolving into Dutch bank ABN AMRO. In 1999 the bank relocated to Amsterdam’s Zuidas business district, and the City of Amsterdam purchased and renovated De Bazel. It reopened in 2007 as the new home of the Amsterdam City Archives, a museum focused on the preservation of Amsterdam documents and history.
A grand post office opened on the Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal in 1899, designed with neo-Gothic influences by C.H. Peters. It served as both a general post office and the administrative headquarters for PTT, the national post, telegraph and telecom company. In 1987, PTT announced their departure, and by 1991 plans were made to turn the building into a luxury shopping centre. The new owners made extensive renovations, carefully preserving original design elements. On 27 August 1992, Magna Plaza opened its doors to shoppers.
In 1885, the Imperial Continental Gas Association built a gasworks in Amsterdam West. The gasworks departed in 1967, leaving the grounds and structures abandoned and in disrepair. In 1992, the buildings were temporarily used for a number of cultural activities. It proved to be a successful formula, and the city decided to turn the former gasworks into a park and creative cultural centre. The Westergasfabriek opened in September 2003, and is now a vibrant meeting place filled with restaurants, cafés, a cinema and a variety of creative companies. It is also home to a number of festivals and cultural initiatives each year.
Even more repurposed buildings
Looking for more fascinating stories behind Amsterdam’s most impressive buildings? Many of the city’s grandest canal houses have been repurposed as museums, and a number of Amsterdam’s most unusual hotels also started life as something else. For even more tips, stop by ARCAM and get the inside scoop from the city’s architectural experts.