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Amsterdam has a rich architectural history. The oldest building in Amsterdam is the Oude Kerk (Old Church), at the heart of the Wallen, consecrated in 1306. The oldest wooden building is het Houten Huys at the Begijnhof. It was constructed around 1425 and is one of only two existing wooden buildings. It is also one of the few examples of Gothic architecture in Amsterdam.

In the 16th century, wooden buildings were razed and replaced with brick ones. During this period, many buildings were constructed in the architectural style of the Renaissance. Buildings of this period are very recognizable with their stepped gable façades, which is the common Dutch Renaissance style. Amsterdam quickly developed its own Renaissance architecture. These buildings were built according to the principles of the architect Hendrick de Keyser. One of the most striking buildings designed by Hendrick de Keyer is the Westerkerk. In the 17th century baroque architecture became very popular, as it was elsewhere in Europe. This roughly coincided with Amsterdam’s Golden Age. The leading architects of this style in Amsterdam were Jacob van Campen, Philip Vingboons and Daniel Stalpaert.

Philip Vingboons designed splendid merchants’ houses throughout the city. A famous building in baroque style in Amsterdam is the Royal Palace on Dam Square. Throughout the 18th century, Amsterdam was heavily influenced by French culture. This is reflected in the architecture of that period. Around 1815, architects broke with the baroque style and started building in different neo-styles. Most Gothic style buildings date from that era and are therefore said to be built in a neo-gothic style. At the end of the 19th century, the Jugendstil or Art Nouveau style became popular and many new buildings were constructed in this architectural style. Since Amsterdam expanded rapidly during this period, new buildings adjacent to the city centre were also built in this style. The houses in the vicinity of the Museum Square in Amsterdam Oud-Zuid are an example of Jugendstil. The last style that was popular in Amsterdam before the modern era was Art Deco. Amsterdam had its own version of the style, which was called the Amsterdamse School. Whole districts were built this style, such as the Rivierenbuurt. A notable feature of the façades of buildings designed in Amsterdamse School is that they are highly decorated and ornate, with oddly shaped windows and doors.

The historical centre of Amsterdam is one of the biggest of the world. The canal belt dating from the 17th century represents the economical and cultural position of Amsterdam at that period. Two centuries later city was extended again (for example with the district of de Pijp), which, nevertheless, did not help changing the fundamental housing problems substantially. The desolate conditions on the housing market lead to the first housing law at the end of the 19th century. It was applied for the first time at a huge scale on the Urban Extension Plan South (Uitbreidingsplan Zuid) by Berlage. The buildings within this scheme have been designed by architects of the Amsterdam School such as Pieter Lodewijk Kramer and Michel de Klerk.

Some years later the functionalist movement promised, to offer cheaper and more effective solutions for the housing need. These ideas have been apllied in the General Extension Plan (Het Algemeen Uitbreidingsplan AUP) from 1935, which until 1960 formed the basis of planning for the  Western Garden Cities, Bijlmermeer and  Amsterdam North. Nowadays former harbour areas along the IJ-river centre are being transformed into living and office quarters. The  Eastern Harbour District with its various approches in urban schemes and architecture is considered a reference for similar developments. Other ambitious city extension projects are being realised on the artificial islands of  IJburg east of the ring highway and in the Southern Business District (Zuidas) near the Amsterdam Schiphol Airport .

Eastern Docklands

KNSM: Jo Coenens‘ Masterplan for KNSM-island- provided big buildings, referring to the harbour scale. The buildings which accord to one block are among others the ‘Piraeus’ from Hans Kollhoff and Christian Rapp and the ‘SkyDome’ from Wiel Arets. At KNSM one can still find traces of the old harbour history. Apart from houses for retired captains and former administration buildings of the shipping companies also a passengers-terminal dating from the sixties is still to be seen. Additional to the predominating housing small galleries, shops, cafés and boot-workshops can be found on the restructured island.

JAVA-EILAND: On the eastern part of the island a different strategy has been followed. The old houses were entirely torn down, after which an urban and small scale housing district – based on an urban design by Sjoerd Soeters – was built. The big housing blocks with intimate yards are structured by small canals referring to the flair of the historic Amsterdam city centre. The buildings designed by different architects are repeated in each of the urban blocks, in varying positions. The housing project of the Swiss architects Diener and Diener links Java and KNSM within the urban plan. The Jan Schaefer bridge from Venhoeven CS connects Java island to the city centre.

BORNEO-SPORENBURG: For the two peninsulas Borneo and Sporenburg West 8 made a striped, three layered housing proposal, which reminds of long warehouses. The narrow housing types are conceived as introverted patio’s. All private outside spaces as well as parking places are to be found within the plot. All involved architects interpreted these rules differently. On Borneo the ‘Architects-houses’ show an even wider range. This ‘sea of houses’ is relaxed by big city blocks such as ‘the Whale‘ as most prominent example. Red, waving bridges connect the two islands.


Already in 1964 plans were made for a city-extension in the IJsselmeer. Starting point was the Pampusplan from Jacob Berend Bakema. Nearly 35 years later this vision became reality. The master plan of Palmboom van den Bout presented in 1995 consists of seven artificial sand islands east of Amsterdam. They will provide space for 45.000 inhabitants, 18.000 dwellings, offices and recreation-areas. Each of the seven islands has its own character, from the dense and urban to the idyllic beach island. Via the new Grimshaw bridge and the Piet-Hein-Tunnel the new district is directly connected to the city centre and the ring road of Amsterdam.

The first parts to be realized are the Harbour island and the Reed island. The master plan for the urban Harbour island has been designed by Ton Schaap, Frits van Dongen and Felix Claus. The concept for the Reed island has been developed by John Bosch within a parcel structure are placed individual houses between 2m high walls. In 2003 the first residents moved into their new homes, though IJburg will be a construction site until – expected – 2020.

Garden Cities

The Western Garden Cities have its origin 1935-1970 in the plans of the Public Building Comity as well as in the thoughts of the urban planner Cornelius van Eesteren. The urban concept was based on the General Extension Plan for Amsterdam dating from 1934. The slab buildings result directly from the ideas of the functionalists and the CIAM. All inhabitants were supposed to profit equally from light, air and space. Standardised housing was combined with collective outside space.

In the west of Amsterdam right now 130.000 people are living in 54.000 dwellings. 10.000 of these dwellings will be torn down in the following years. Until 2015 17.500 new dwellings will be built instead. Within this big city transformation were and will still be conceived a number of innovative housing projects, which attempt to develop a contemporary image of the garden city.

Amsterdam North

Opposite Central Station on the other side of the IJ-river starts the North-Holland-Canal, which has been the connection to the Ijsselmeer and the North sea until the Northsea canal was built. In spite of the good ferry and tunnel connection to the centre of Amsterdam the IJ-river has stayed a geographical barrier. Big parts of Amsterdam North derive from the General Extension Plan 1935. Mentionable is also the garden city ” Oostzaan” by B.T. Boeyinga, a settlement dating from 1300 provisional housing from 1922-1924 with wooden gate buildings. In the 80ies also North started restructuring former harbour and warp areas. OMA developed an urban concept with city-villas and linear slabs for the IJplein.

In the coming years the whole north bank will get a face lifting. The Shell-Terrein with outstanding buildings from the sixties and the Shell-Tower as urban landmark will be given a new function. Along the North-Holland-Canal will be built a new urban centre designed by Teun Koolhaas. The North-South-metro line provides a quicker connection with the Amsterdam city centre. Already today several excellent architectural projects announce the ongoing changes.

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