Amsterdam’s Canal Houses: More than Just a Pretty Facade

A while back, Jörg and I were chatting with friends about things we could make using a 3D printer. Having a 3D printer at home could be quite handy.  Just realized that the unimportant-looking thingamajig you tossed out is an essential component of the juicer/ steamer/whatnot? Don’t worry, simply sketch, then 3D print a new one. Hopefully, the discarded thingamajig wasn’t part of the printer. Amsterdam’s DUS Architects firm is thinking bigger, much BIGGER. After years of planning, they recently started to 3D print a modern version of the traditional canal house; a life-size, 13-room version. You can follow the build here.

I like that DUS’s future-focused design includes a classic stepped gable. During my visits to Amsterdam last year, I spent hours meandering and taking in the details. While the predominately 17th and 18th century canal houses are fairly uniform in shape, their varied architectural elements add incredible charm and character to the city.

Canal Houses Amsterdam - Bell Gable - photo by Jörg AlbrechtThrough their designs, from the simple bell-shaped neck-gables, elegant cornices and mouldings…

Canal Houses Amsterdam - photo by Jörg Albrecht…to the rhythm of windows spanning building facades, Amsterdam’s early architects helped to create a jewel box of a city.

Doors with Figurative Detail Amsterdam - photo by Sara Lynne Moffatt

Landscaping along the Amstel Canal Amsterdam  - photo by Sara Lynne MoffattWith most gardens hidden from view behind the narrow, deep buildings, it was a pleasure to come across this lush oasis when walking beside the Amstel Canal.

Why are the canal houses narrow and deep? Effective urban planning.

Between the 13th and mid-17th century, Amsterdam grew from a humble trading post for commodities such as herring and beer to a bustling multinational centre of commerce. There are a couple of key reasons for the city’s growth. Firstly, tolls were low. The prospect of earning higher profits attracted traders. Higher profits then allowed them to invest in new technologies and expand their businesses. Secondly, people fleeing from the persecution and violence taking place in other parts of Europe were welcomed by the Dutch. Many of the refugees were wealthy and used their wealth to fund sea expeditions to India; eventually, organizing the Dutch East India Company. Later, the Dutch West India Company was established and undertook trading expeditions to the New World.

In 1300, Amsterdam had 1,000 inhabitants.  By 1600, the population stood at 54,000. Relative to today’s mega-cities, that seems small. However, the city was bursting at the seams. To accommodate the rapidly increasing population, in 1613, city planners developed a grand plan to expand the canal ring. Its implementation was a success. By 1675, over 200,000 people comfortably lived and worked in Amsterdam.

The GIF images give you an idea of how the city grew. They depict layouts dating about 1340, 1425, 1585, 1613, 1663 and the end of 19th century.

By substantially expanding the canal system in the 1600’s and creating narrow building plots, the city planners maximized the number of businesses that could be established along Amsterdam’s waterways. The long plots stretched between the canals and allowed for generous backyards.

The typical canal house provided both commercial and residential spaces. The architectural renderings shown below are of a canal house designed by the Golden Age Dutch architect Philip Vingboons. The front of the building was used for retail, office, warehousing and/or trading activities. The residential area was located at the rear of the building, offering respite from the busy waterways and opening into a gorgeous garden. Each zone was serviced by its own staircase.  The famously narrow footprint of the staircases maximized floor space. Furniture and other large items were (and still are) hoisted to the upper levels using hooks attached to the exterior of the building.

VingboonsOver time, many of Amsterdam’s canal houses were converted into hotels, condos, and office buildings. However, the type of work/live buildings conceived by Vingboons and other early Dutch architects could be ideal for today’s expanding entrepreneurial and small business sectors.

DUS’s 3D-printed house concept considers the building needs and environmental impacts of rapidly growing 21st century cities. DUS Architects partner Hedwig Heinsman speaks to this during an interview by Blouin ARTINFO which you can view here.

Canal Houses Amsterdam Neck Gables and Flat Roofed - photo by Jörg AlbrechtIs a 3D printed home in your future? The potential of this emerging technology is quite intriguing. I’m working on a sketch of the canal houses shown in the photo above. I may start sketching out my ideal home next. By the time I finish it, 3D printed neighbourhoods could be popping up everywhere.

Amsterdam canal house sketch - photo by Sara Lynne Moffatt

Photo Credits: 1, 4, 5, and 7 by Sara Lynne Moffatt, 2, 3 and 6 by Jörg Albrecht
Illustration Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5

Additional Sources:

Amsterdam Canal Houses (some information is available in English)
Amsterdam City Archives
Amsterdam: Historical Population
European Architecture: Essential Architecture – Amsterdam
Holland History
UNESCO: Seventeenth-Century Canal Ring Area of Amsterdam Inside the Singelgracht

2 thoughts on “Amsterdam’s Canal Houses: More than Just a Pretty Facade

  1. Anke Engel

    Very fascinating idea, the 3D printer. I love your way with words. It’s like you are painting a picture with them. And the fotos are great. Thank you.

    1. Sara Lynne Moffatt Post author

      Thank you, Anke. You might find this link to a news site dedicated to 3D printing interesting. I came across it today. Seems that after being around for 30 years, recent advances in the technology, especially the area of input materials, could dramatically change how things are made.

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