The Amsterdam School, a Dutch architectural style from the beginning of the 20th century, is characterized by the threedimensional use of brick, with wrought iron and sculptural embellishments. The style aimed to create buildings as a total art concept, both inside and out (Gesamtkunstwerk). A rather famous example of this type of architecture is housing complex Het Schip (The Ship), constructed between 1917 and 1921 and designed by architect Michel de Klerk (1884-1923).
From Squalor to Workers’ Palaces
The Spaarndammerbuurt (Spaarndam neighborhood, north of the Westerpark) used to be an area for harbour workers and originally had very poor quality housing. Amsterdam had a major housing shortage in the 19th and early 20th century (almost a constant in this city). The working classes usually lived in squalid tiny quarters without electricity, toilets or running water, sometimes entire families living in a single room apartment with only one peat burning stove.
A Law for Better Housing
The National Housing Act (Woningwet) of 1901 at long last defined and required a much higher standard — inadequate old blocks were demolished and new houses were built, with pricing that made them more accessible for low-income citizens. The Spaarndammerbuurt was one of the districts where exemplary social housing projects like Het Schip and several other Amsterdam School projects were realised, financed by cooperative housing associations. This was mostly an idealistic movement which aimed to give workers beautiful and healthy housing complete with ample public gardens.
Socialist Housing Corporation
The working-class houses in this part of the neighborhood, built on behalf of socialist housing corporation Eigen Haard (Own Hearth), were constructed in three parts: on the Spaarndammerplantsoen (north side 1913–1915, south side 1915–1916) and the block called Het Schip, between Zaanstraat, Oostzaanstraat and Hembrugstraat (1917–1921).
The building complex Het Schip is certainly a beautiful example of this expressionist movement and it is definitely worth a visit. The excellent restoration of the block was finished in 2018 with the support of the Getty Foundation (based in Los Angeles, California), which awards grants for “the understanding and preservation of the visual arts”.
Ship or Pie?
The block of Het Schip looks more like a slice of pie to me (with a bite taken out of the wide end, where the tower is), but someone somehow once saw a slight resemblance to a ship in it, so that’s the name it got. It’s probably better this way, not having to say you live in a slice of pie. It contains 102 apartments, a small hall and a post office. Since 2001 it also houses a museum dedicated to the Amsterdam School movement, accessed from the former school entrance at Oostzaanstraat 45.
Architect Michel de Klerk
Michel de Klerk was a Dutch architect, one of the founding architects of the Amsterdam School movement of expressionist architecture. He was born in a poor Jewish family, but his drawing skills allowed him access to a craft school and eventually got him a job working for architect Eduard Cuypers (from age 14 to age 26), where he also met his wife Lea Jesserun and fellow idealists Piet Kramer and Joan van der Meij. Between 1906 and 1911 he made several trips to London, Germany and Scandinavia. His first real design was the Hillehuis, a complex from 1911 on Gabriël Metsustraat near the Museumplein.
He created many outstanding designs with highly original embellishments, but few were actually built. One of his finest completed buildings is Het Schip. He wanted to break free from the fixed rationalist ideas proposed by Berlage, his work after 1920 influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright. He also designed furniture and entire interiors (for example for the Scheepvaarthuis) and was a gifted artist. He died in 1923 at the age of 39 from pneumonia.
Museum Het Schip has a richly illustrated book available called “A Work of Art in Brick”, about the history and restoration of the building (available in Dutch and English):
I will cover the unique museum dedicated to Het Schip and the Amsterdam School in another blog post.
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