Zooming into the district of Spaarndammerbuurt from above, in an attempt to locate the famous “Het Schip” in Amsterdam West, one sees the three streets Hembrugstraat, Oostzaanstraat and Zaanstraat enfolding a remarkable building block, outlining a triangular door knob which once turned, opens the gate into the spectacular world and work of the Amsterdam School.
The Amsterdam School is broadly known as a style of architecture that emerged in the early 1900s in The Netherlands. A group of architects, through their exploration of space, shape and form, rebelled against tradition thus suggesting a new approach to architecture. Driven by socialist ideals, the Amsterdam School style was often applied to social housing and public institutions. Its representatives stretched architecture’s dynamics and turned it into concrete or, more precisely ‘brick art’.
Yet, brick was just one of their materials and means of expression for these architects also liked vivid colors, ornaments and manipulation of both the exterior and the interior. They treated buildings as sculptures and molded them in curves and peculiar shapes in the name of elegance.
With the implementation of the Housing Act in 1901, the Amsterdam School found the opportunity to propose an alternative design for social housing. Blending concrete and abstract elements one of the architects of the School undertook and completed a project emphasizing and highlighting the artistic side of architecture while also introducing quality living for the lower classes.
‘The Ship’ (“Het Schip”) designed by Michel de Klerk, one of the main representatives of the Amsterdam School is an apartment building representative of this specific style of architecture. Michel de Klerk, a prodigy swiftly recognized for his genius, tackled a difficult task and created a community including a school, a post office and social dwelling.
The result was a remarkable building block loosely resembling a ship that is slowly making its way in an invisible sea. The structure takes you back in time recalling the days of Dutch imperialism and ruling of the seas, while at the same time reflecting the cultural exchange with the colonies.
The building exudes an exotic aura blended with brick expressionism and borrowing gothic, classic and modern elements in a quest for a new architectural language. Both the interior and the exterior of the building are covered with elaborate details subtly alluding to Antoni Gaudi, often seen as the father of international Expressionist architecture.
Starting from the post office, which as of 2001 is the museum of the Amsterdam School, and slowly walking around the building, one can admire the beautiful masonry, the repetitive curves and the unique details on the building’s façade. It is as if the building breathes or moves while also changing shapes thus revealing its secret corners. Beyond the curves one can find extraordinary projections of crows, tiny windmills and an archer, let alone the ‘cigar’ and the little tower with a ‘feather’ on its top, which adds to its uniqueness.
The museum also allows a tour inside a restored working class apartment, designed by Michel de Klerk and a glimpse into the turret. We see the artist’s vision, how he molds the building in the shape of a ship and his attempt not to disturb or destroy what is already there. He incorporates the already existing school in his design thus creating a hybrid brick synthesis uniting the past with his present.
Yet the architects of the Amsterdam School didn’t limit themselves to architecture. Nearby the school one can also find the street furniture exhibition at the museum garden, plus a small stamp and photo exhibition inside the museum’s premises.
Whether one is interested in architecture and design or not, visiting the “Het Ship” is an unforgettable experience allowing us to admire the expressionist movement and the artists’ insight as far as society and architecture are concerned. Despite of being just a source of inspiration the structure provides much food for thought about the present and the future of architecture in a modern social context.
Museum Het Ship
De Amsterdamse School
1013 XT Amsterdam
+31 (0)20 4182885
+31 (0) 648426751
Every Saturday 11 a.m. guided tour in English. You can subscribe for the tour by sending an email.
The Museum Het Schip participates with Museum Grasnya Gorka in Kemorovo in The Year Russia – The Netherlands.
All photos by Anastasia Sopikioti (http://www.flickr.com/photos/89399378@N03/)