Amsterdam Architecture - Historic & Modern Highlights

With its unique architecture, Amsterdam certainly ranks amongst the most beautiful cities in Europe. The most special architectural feature is the canal belt, which was declared a world heritage site in 2010. on this page you will learn all about historical and modern architecture in Amsterdam.

Modern canal houses - Borneo Sporenburg - Photo by Fred - CC

Historically, the canal ring has had a major influence on the city’s modern appearance. Back then the tax for a building was calculated based on the width it took of the canal.

Tip - Explore the historic old town with a local

Our partner Get Your Guide offers exciting city tours with local guides. The most beautiful parts of the city, insider information and reasonable prices: Here you will find an overview with special offers.

Architecture in historic Amsterdam

This encouraged to save taxes by building houses that had a narrow front, but were relatively long and high.

Historic canal houses in Amsterdam - Photo by Alexander - CC

The narrow design of the buildings made staircases too small for large objects. For that reason, many of the historic houses have a protruding beam on their gable that could be used as a suspension for a pulley.

Why are the canal houses so crooked?

The houses had to be built on wooden stakes due to the swampy underground. As time went by, the stakes started to decay and the underground partly subsided, causing the houses to tilt. Today, the stakes are made of concrete.

Gable forms - Canal houses in Amsterdam

Look at the different gable forms of the canal houses

The diverse shapes of the gables are another characteristic feature. It is worth to look up high and discover the variety of shapes. It seems no two are alike. There are stair gables, bell gables, beak gables...

Read on and learn all about brick expressionism and modern architecture in Amsterdam.

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Amsterdam School – Brick Expressionism

At the beginning of the 20th century, the so called "Amsterdam School" emerged in Amsterdam – An expressionistic architectural style of the classical modern.

Het Schip – Brick Expressionism – Photo by Guilhem Vellut - CC

One main characteristic of the Amsterdam School is the strict division of the facade with windows and areas of different materials. This style makes even large buildings appear less massive. The Amsterdam School architects also had a passion for orange-red bricks. That is why their work was given the nickname "Brick Expressionism".

The architects Piet Kramer, Johan van der Mey and Michel de Klerk were leading figures of the Amsterdam School. Buildings in the Amsterdam School style are spread throughout the city. Famous examples include the Scheepvaarthuis (1913 to 1916) and Het Schip (1917 to 1921).

That was the historical part. In the next section you will learn all about modern architecture in Amsterdam.

Top 7 - Modern Architecture in Amsterdam

Amsterdam also has a lot to offer for enthusiasts of contemporary architecture. The last years brought a great number of interesting, modern buildings, designed by renowned architects from across the world.

Tip - Visit the Centre of Architecture (ARCAM)

Architecture enthusiasts should visit the Centre of Architecture (ARCAM). It is located right in the centre of the city, and entry is free. The ARCAM building is a magnificent example of modern architecture.

Typically for Amsterdam, the modern architecture presents itself in an open and adventuresome way. A good example of contemporary architecture in Amsterdam are the Silodam Housing Silos. The facade of the 10 level building reminds of stacked freight containers and perfectly fits into the harbour’s surroundings.

Silodam - Photo by Andrea de Poda - CC

The Silodam is home to 157 apartments and a few offices. The experimental room concept is especially interesting – the walls in the building can be moved freely, and therefore each housing unit is unique.

Examples for contemporary architecture in Amsterdam:

  • 1. Silodam Housing Silos
    residential and office buildings. See picture above, Western harbour
  • 2. ARCAM
    Centre of Architecture, Prins Hendrikkade 600
  • 3. Kop van Diemenstraat
    offices, apartments, Van Diemenstraat 2
  • 4. The Whale
    apartments, Baron G. A. Tindalplein 1
  • 5. ING House
    ING Headquarter, Amstelveenseweg 500
  • 6. IJ Tower
    Apartments, Oostelijke Handelskade 1213
  • 7. Movenpick Hotel
    Hotel, Piet Heinkade 11
  • 8. New wing of the Van Gogh Museum
    Museum, Museumplein 6

That was our architecture in Amsterdam overview. Do you have any questions or tips on the topic? Then we are looking forward to your comment.

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