A Brief History Of Amsterdamse School Architecture

Jeruzalemkerk | © Marcel Mulder / WikiCommons
Jeruzalemkerk | © Marcel Mulder / WikiCommons
Photo of Tom Coggins
29 December 2016

In 1916 The Scheepvaarthuis opened its doors. This massive building on the southern banks of the river Ij was constructed by a group of Dutch shipping companies based in Amsterdam. They had employed a large roster of architects to develop a new site for their offices and allowed these designers to add personal flourishes to the project. This lead to a particularly unusual composition which is now recognized as the starting point of the architectural style known as Amsterdamse School.

The building’s style combines gestures drawn from several artistic movements into one completely original pastiche that works well beyond the limits of its forbearers. Certain elements appear to reference Art Deco whilst containing a semblance of naturalism or organically focussed expressionism. These amicable aspects were perfectly balanced against harsher forms and imposing design features such as the building’s red brick façade or towering gables. After the Scheepvaarthuis was completed, this type of juxtapositional, expressive structural design became associated with a faction of architects working in Amsterdam who eventually began to call themselves the Amsterdamse School.

The three main proponents of this style, namely Michel de Klerk , Piet Kramer and J.M. van de Meij, were all trained at Eduard Cuypers’ offices in Amsterdam and felt that the city’s built environment suffered from a severe lack of decoration. Fortunately, during this time Amsterdam’s periphery was undergoing considerable development which meant that they had plenty of room to experiment with their designs.

Het Schip | © Marcelmulder68/WikiCommons; Scheepvaarthuis | © Janericloebe/WikiCommons; Amsterdams Lyceum | © Aquilo/WikiCommons

Many of the buildings designed under the guidance of Amsterdamse School architects were devised with socialist principles in mind and were meant to honor the Dutch working class. Possibly the most famous example of this can be found in Amsterdam’s Spaarndammerbuurt neighborhood. The building in question is known as Het Schip and was created by Michel de Klerk, who believed that this residential construction would serve as a palace for Amsterdam’s blue-collar workers and was commissioned by a large socialist housing group to complete his vision.

Although Amsterdamse School architecture fell into decline by the mid 20th century, a large concentration of the movement’s work can still be found inside the Dutch capital.

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