100 years of the Amsterdam School: architects of change

The most famous architectural style of Dutch origin is called the Amsterdam School (Amsterdamse School), and 2016 marks 100 years since the distinctive style began to transform the face of Amsterdam and the lives of the people within it.

Entire neighbourhoods in the Dutch capital from the 1910s and 1920s were built in this style, with the Grand Hotel Amrâth as the most visible example in downtown Amsterdam.

The Amsterdam School encompasses much more than just the buildings, it also greatly influenced interior design.

All kinds of furniture were made using the same stylistic features, and in antique shops you can still find beautiful lamps, clocks, ceramics and textiles in the same spirit.

History of De Amsterdamse School

The turn of the century was a dynamic period for the city, as the advent of the 20th century brought with it a fresh wind of daring new ideas.

It was a time of open-mindedness, creativity and an unprecedented determination and desire for something new - new shapes, new materials and a new philosophy.

Young, idealistic designers, artists, architects along with politicians and trade union leaders sought to challenge the established order.

Architects of change

At the same time, there was also a pressing need for new large-scale housing for working class families in the Dutch capital, as many of the existing homes were in very poor repair and large numbers of people who moved to the city from the countryside ended up living in squalid conditions.

The turn-of-the-century Woningwet (Housing law) sought to bring an end to slums in the Netherlands, and made way for large-scale investments in new and improved working class housing.

The social housing projects of the Amsterdam School are widely seen as a high point of Dutch architecture.

A number of the founding architects of the movement had strong socialist convictions, and they set out to construct arbeiderspaleizen (worker’s palaces) for "those who’ve had to live without any form of beauty for such a long time," according to Michel de Klerk, one of the founders.

Influences on the Amsterdam School

The distinctive Dutch aesthetic has its roots in Expressionist architecture and borrows elements from the Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) and Art Deco, and there is a lot of visual overlap with those two styles.

The aim was to create a total architectural experience, which is why an equal amount of attention was paid to both the interior and exterior design.

Gesamtkunstwerk was the idea, blurring the lines between art and architecture by combining the functional with the decorative.

Origins of the Amsterdam School

The Amsterdam School saw the light of day in the Amsterdam offices of renowned architect Eduard Cuypers. Cuypers did not come up with the style himself, but he provided an environment that encouraged creativity and free thinking.

Michel de Klerk (1884-1923), Johan van der Mey (1878-1949) and Piet Kramer (1881-1961), three of his employees, are credited as the originators of the Amsterdam School.

Their first collaboration resulted in the Scheepvaarthuis in 1916, a building that would serve as the head offices for the city’s six largest shipping companies. It's currently known as Grand Hotel Amrâth.

The style caught on immediately and a number of Dutch architects and designers were commissioned for new projects, not just in the capital but in cities all over the Netherlands. Utrecht and Groningen have a number of buildings in the same style, and the Bijenkorf in The Hague is another example of the Amsterdam School.

See the Amsterdam School

A visit to Museum Het Schip should be on your itinerary if you want to learn more and see beautiful everyday objects in the distinctive Amsterdam style. It’s located on the Spaarndammerplantsoen where the surrounding residential buildings are built in the same style.

Next to the museum, there is currently a full-size mock-up of what the interior of a typical turn-of-the-century dwelling for a family of seven looked like in Amsterdam. It stands in stark contrast to what the architects of the Amsterdam School achieved for the city’s working class families. Het Schip also offers guided walking and bus tours.

The Stedelijk Museum is hosting an exhibition all summer long, called Living in the Amsterdam School. You can admire furniture, lamps, clocks, ceramics, textiles, and graphic designs such as those for wallpaper. More than 500 works are on display, including pieces from designers such as Jaap Gidding, Michel de Klerk, Piet Kramer, Hildo Krop and Marie Kuyken.

Architectuur Centrum Amsterdam has a special photo exhibition called 100 years of inspiration on the subject.

Discover the Amsterdam School yourself

The most enjoyable way to discover the Amsterdam school, weather permitting, is by taking a walk through the city armed with your camera.

Must-see highlights include:
Grand Hotel Amrâth (Prins Hendrikkade 108)
Museum Het Schip (Spaarndammerplantsoen)
NH Carlton Hotel (Vijzelstraat 4)
Jeruzalemkerk (Jan Maijenstraat 14)
Het Sieraad (Postjesweg 1)

There is much more of course, and the map below shows you all buildings and monuments built in the Amsterdam School tradition. The full-size map with legend can be downloaded here.

Which is your favourite building in the Amsterdam School style?

Thomas Lundberg


Thomas Lundberg

Born as a Swede in the Netherlands, this life-long expat has spent his time in Belgium, the United States and Amsterdam. He began his professional career as a regional news...

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