Tag Archives: Amsterdam

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

Lighting Up with Dutch Design – Sander Mulder

Being somewhat focused when I’m working at my desk (and perhaps a smidgen lazy), as the day approaches dusk, I find it annoying to have to get up, walk across the room, and turn on the overhead light. If I had one of Sander Mulder’s Cyclops pendant lamps in my office, then I could simply reach up, give the “eye” a little upwards flick, and light up the room.

Cyclops Light Sander MulderThe Cyclops Pendant Lamp is another light fixture design that caught my attention at the Woonbeurs 2013 show in Amsterdam (in an earlier post, I showed some of Stef van der Bujl’s unique creations). The lamp is an environmentally friendly 39 watt LED.  While minimalistic, the fixture is available in several standard anodized finishes as well as custom RAL colours. It’s also possible to order custom cable colours.

My “annoyance” at having to get up to turn on an overhead lamp is not the problem Sander Mulder set out to address with his Cyclops lamp. He conceived the innovative design as a solution for impractically placed light switches. Through the form of the lamp, aided by technology, a light switch becomes unnecessary. Push the “eye” upwards and the lamp turns on, pull it downwards and it switches off. For me, the beauty of the design is the surprise of realizing what’s not there.

Lighting Up with Dutch Design – Stef van der Bijl

With the dark days of winter creeping up on us, it’s a good time to show you some of the creative Dutch light fixture designs as seen at the Woonbeurs 2013 show in Amsterdam. Today’s post, the first of three, introduces you to the work of Stef van der Bijl.Stef van der Bilj Chickmaster Flashdrill LampFormerly a discarded vintage drill, the desk lamp shown above is from Stef van der Bijl’s “Chickmaster Flashdrill” series. The drill’s original on/off switch is still functional. It controls the light bulb. I think that the lamp’s unexpected context, sleek shape and polished surface would add industrial chic to both contemporary and traditional interiors. Stef van der Bilj Squirtmaster LampCan you guess what the light featured above used to be? The name of the design series provides a clue. It’s from the “The Squirtmaster” series. The designer created it using refurbished antique fire engine parts. A copper fire-hose nozzle holds the tube lamp and the fire-hose wheel acts a dimmer switch. The lamp is both functional and a conversation piece.

Stef van der Bijl’s inventiveness includes more than lights. For his “The Time Traveller’s Watch” collection, he creates watches from old camera parts, Steampunk style. He once turned a rusty Art Deco stove into a smart storage cabinet and even converted a 1967 Volkswagen T1 van into a travelling beverage bar and DJ booth. He also designs entire living and work spaces. You can see more of Stef van der Bijl’s work, including his own studio/home loft, on his website.

What I like most about Stef van der Bijl’s creations is that they are unique, handmade and support sustainable product design. As such, they are excellent examples of the new definition of “luxury” that is prevalent in Dutch Design today.