Category Archives: The Netherlands

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

A while back, I was 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. 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 Through their designs, from the simple bell-shaped neck-gables, elegant cornices and mouldings…

Canal Houses Amsterdam …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

Urban Landscaping Along the Amstel Canal Amsterdam With most gardens hidden from view behind the narrow, deep buildings, it was a pleasure to come across this lush urban 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 RoofedIs 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

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

Eleven Travel Souvenir Ideas Based on Maps

Working on blog posts is a bit like ambling around a new destination. Start in one direction, keep your eyes open and soon you’ll find yourself among unexpected delights. I was putting together a post on Amsterdam’s canal houses, which grew into a larger research effort. In doing the research, I looked at old maps of the city, which led me to a surprising array of items made using maps.

Map of Amsterdam by cartographer J Blaeu, 1649.

Map of Amsterdam by cartographer J. Blaeu, 1649.

Antique, vintage and reproduction maps make great travel souvenirs. Not when tucked away in drawers, but when put on display, or turned into fun and useful items. Here are some of the ideas that I came across, along with one item that I quickly made myself.1 - 9 Handcrafted
With the holiday season coming up, these items could make wonderful gifts for the traveller or want-to-be traveller on your list. Or perhaps as bon voyage or welcome home gifts.1 2 3

  1. DIY magnetic board covered with a vintage map. This easy-to-do project is by graphic designer Michael Jon Watt. The instructions are via Apartment Therapy.
  2. Drawer pulls or cabinet knobs created by Kristy and Matt of Daisy Mae Designs. Use a different destination for each drawer or cabinet. In addition to the knobs, you’ll find a variety of other items in this Etsy shop, from cuff links to wine stoppers, that incorporate original vintage maps.
  3. Certified organic cotton cushion cover printed with a map of Amsterdam. Created by Cath of My Bearded Pigeon. Cath is an Etsy featured seller, you can read an interview with her here.4 5 6
  4. Canal-house shaped cushions in cotton printed with maps of Amsterdam from the Fanatica Barcelona Etsy shop. Shown is a set of three different gable styles, single cushions are also available.
  5. DIY six-sided block puzzle using old maps, as seen on a blog here. For inspiration only as no instructions are available via the link.
  6. My own 20-minute DIY project, a map-covered box. Mini-instructions are at the end of the post. I’m using this box to store paper clips. Larger boxes could be covered with actual maps.7 8 9
  7. Custom-made photo album created by Ali Manning of Vintage Page Designs. Ali also creates travel and other journals which she will personalize for you.
  8. Handcrafted coasters made by Jonathon Wayne Sopotiuk, an artist and designer studying at the Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver, Canada. The coasters shown display a map of The Netherlands. Coasters showing many other destinations along with custom options are available through his Etsy shop (click through link provided on his name).
  9. DIY decoupaged glass trays. You can find instructions here, the image that I used is from here. If you aren’t a DIYer, search Etsy for handcrafted ones.

10 Framed Maps Banner
Maps on Floating ShelvesFramed antique and vintage maps of places you’ve visited or are on your wish list would make a wonderful art collection. A relatively low-cost version would be to frame reproductions using coordinating stock frames. By placing them on floating shelves, you could mix the maps in with other pieces as you add new travel destinations over the years. Or perhaps combine the maps with photographs taken while travelling.

The image is via the Majesty Maps and Prints online shop. Among their offering of reproductions are large-scale and black-out maps.

When searching for online sellers of original antique and vintage maps, I was surprised at the range of prices. At the lower end are maps taken from old atlases.
11 Folding Screen BannerMap Screen

As a DIY folding screen option, you could decoupage flat boards with a single large map cut into strips or with a collage of smaller maps. The sides and back of the boards could be painted or covered with fabric. For a more durable option, cover the decorated boards with Plexiglas, cut to size, and frame the edges with decorative moulding. The image above is also via the Majesty Maps and Prints site.

These are just some ways to keep travel memories using travel maps. What sort of travel souvenirs do you collect? Have you used maps to decorate your own home?

Steps I followed to make my map-covered box:

  • Scaled an image of an antique map of Amsterdam (more about the map in my next post) to fit on A4 paper.
  • Printed it out using a colour printer.
  • Rummaged around the house for a suitable box. An A4 sheet was the perfect size to cover the lid of an old iPhone box.
  • Used an acid-free glue stick to adhere the image to the lid. Folded and trimmed the paper on the short sides of the box.
  • To further secure the paper to the box, I ran a strip of 38mm wide binding tape (purchased from my local paper shop) around the lid edge. I placed it so that 5mm was on the outside of the lid, folded the tape over and adhered the rest to the inside.
  • Added pull tabs to the bottom of the box, by applying two strips of binding tape to the sides of the bottom, making the tab by folding the tape back on itself. The tabs make it easier to pull the box open.
  • Gave the paper a coat of a matte lacquer to protect it.

Transformed Traditional – Studio Rolf.fr

Decorating with upcycled and refurbished objects, once considered trendy, is now a design style.  One which I happily embrace. In my home, Victorian-era pine floor boards, saved from a long-gone St. Louis hospital, form a pedestal and discarded steam gauges are now an art installation. Sometimes a few coats of lacquer turn “old” into “new.” At other times it’s a new use. What should we call this style? It’s neither Shabby Chic nor Industrial. Perhaps Redux? At Studio Rolf.fr, the approach to upcycling and refurbishing is a bit more radical.

Concrete Cabinet

Concrete Cabinet

Rolf works with objects that have sentimental value, but no longer fit with today’s design aesthetic. He slices, encases and reshapes them into contemporary pieces, while honouring the memories of the past. The Studio Rolf.fr design style could be called Transformed Traditional.

Rearrangements bench. Resin with sliced balusters.

Rearrangements bench. Resin with sliced balusters.

Extended Cabinet

Extended Cabinet

Rolf began transforming things as an architect. He studied architecture and urban planning at the Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands. In 2003, along with architect Marnix van der Meer, he founded Zecc Architecten. Among the firm’s projects are the  Water Tower of Living and Church of Living. As the names imply, these living spaces were once a water tower and a church.

His own home is the award wining The Black Pearl. Located in a revitalized neighbourhood of Rotterdam, the house, once a crumbling relic, is an outstanding transformation. From the link, you can also watch a short video (Rolf speaks Dutch in the video, even if you don’t understand Dutch, it’s interesting to watch) and take a 360 tour.

In 2009, Rolf formed Studio Rolf.fr and now dedicates his time to designing and creating furniture and products. The photos below are of his Cutting Porcelain series. By covering the exterior and slicing the tea pot and vase apart, he reveals the simple, elegant lines of the hidden inner structures.

From the Cutting Porcelain series.

From the Cutting Porcelain series.

From the Cutting Porcelain series

From the Cutting Porcelain series

When I first saw Studio Rolf.fr’s Concrete Cabinet (top photo) in Amsterdam at Woonbeurs 2013, it seemed familiar (minus the concrete). It reminded me of my maternal grandmother’s sewing cabinet. As a child, I adored rummaging through it. The drawers yielded bits of lace and spare buttons that I crafted into bracelets and hairbands. I asked to have the cabinet after my grandparents died. It became my daughter’s bedside table. She still has it in her home today. Although she likes it just as it is, perhaps a concrete remake is now under consideration. (Update: I’ve been assured the treasured cabinet will remain as is).

In the photo, my grandmother is wearing a silk dress created by my mom. I love seeing how my family dressed for casual strolls in the park. Perhaps not practical, but definitely chic.

Photo credits: 2, 3, 4 & 5 Studio Rolf.fr.