Housing block Het Schip, Amsterdam

Housing Complex Het Schip

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).

Housing block Het Schip, Amsterdam, corner of Zaanstraat and Oostzaanstraat

View of Het Schip at the corner of Zaan­straat and Oostzaan­straat. This — the narrow part of the pie-slice shaped block — houses the former post office, its full Amsterdam School interior carefully preserved, now part of Museum Het Schip (July 2021).

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.

Housing block Het Schip, Amsterdam, side entrance to the inner courtyard

A side entrance to the inner court­yard behind the apartments (July 2021).

Housing block Het Schip, Amsterdam, apartment doors in the courtyard

Apartment doors inside the courtyard (July 2021).

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.

Housing block Het Schip, Amsterdam, inner courtyard view through a gate

View through a gate on the inner courtyard of the housing block of Het Schip (July 2021).

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).

Housing block Het Schip, Amsterdam, 1917 ad from housing corporation Eigen Haard

Ad from 1917 for houses at Hembrug­straat by housing corporation Eigen Haard (Neder­lands Architectuur­instituut NAi).

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”.

Housing block Het Schip, Amsterdam, curved part of the top façade on Oostzaanstraat

Interesting curved part of the façade on the Oostzaan­straat, detail of how the architect incorpo­rated the existing school building into the new block (July 2021).

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.

Housing block Het Schip, Amsterdam, tile covered spire on the roof

The tile covered spire on the roof at the wide part of the block, viewed from inside the museum courtyard (July 2021).

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.

Housing block Het Schip, Amsterdam, elaborate roof line at Oostzaanstraat

Detail of the elaborate roof line at Oostzaan­straat (July 2021).

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.

Housing block Het Schip, Amsterdam, small windmill sculpture on the façade

Small windmill sculpture on the façade of Het Schip, Oostzaan­straat (July 2021).

Het Schip, Amsterdam, museum entrance at Oostzaanstraat 45

Oostzaanstraat 45, entrance to museum Het Schip in the former school building (July 2021).

Housing block Het Schip, Amsterdam, Oostzaanstraat corner Hembrugstraat

Het Schip, Oostzaan­straat corner Hembrug­straat (July 2021).

Housing block Het Schip, Amsterdam, view from across the Hembrugstraat

Het Schip, viewed from across the Hembrug­straat (July 2021).

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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