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Up On The Roof…

Not only the Netherlands, but also Amsterdam have to become sustainable. The Sustainability Agenda of the City Councel calls for a consistent city where it is pleasant to live and work. And where, moreover, one can find clean air. And solar panels. But these last ones must all be put on roofs…

Dam Square around 1912, opposite of the Royal Palace there was a phone mast.

Dam Square around 1912, opposite of the Royal Palace there was a phone mast.

Although it is sometimes forgotten putting things on your roof is of all time: chimneys, masts and poles. In the seventeenth century meter high chimneys stood above the rooftops of Amsterdam, just to make a good pull of the fire in the hearth. Chimneys we all know, nowadays they are not as high as before. Forgotten is the time, circa 1900, that telephone poles stood across the city. Poles on the street but also systems atop roofs, which were linked together and made that people could call each other. They had to make auxiliary structures in the roofs, after research now and then one is found. A few years ago such a support structure appeared to be in Prinsengracht 263 in the Secret Annex (Anne Frank’s House). Even on the outside it can still be seen, where once stood a telephone pole in the middle of the roof.

Antenna Register

Antenna Register

Even the overhead power lines are gone. Same goes for television aerials they are hardly been seen. They came when TV started in the 50’s of last century, but now we have other techniques to receive signals. Many disappeared in the course of time in the soil. That doesn’t mean there is nothing on our roofs, the installations are only becoming less and less visible. Only recently satellite dishes appeared everywhere, but they are disappearing rapidly. Phone and mobile antennas are all around us, but almost no one sees them. On the map of the Antenna Register you can see where the antennas are located in the Netherlands / Amsterdam

Installing solar panels on your roof fits into a long line of things on the roof. But this has obvious consequences for the appearance of a building. Especially for monuments, although the panels are not always visible. To assess the effects of solar panels, the Department of Monuments and Archaeology developed a solar map in 2015. These show the roofs in the conservation area of suitable monuments, but still be off view for installing these solar panels. As many as two-thirds of the roofs in the city appears to be appropriate.

Solar panel map of the historical centre of Amsterdam

Solar panel map of the historical centre of Amsterdam

On approximately seventeen thousand plots solar panels could be placed. 11,896 of them have a building of architectural and historical value, 8,863 are actually a monument. On 6,109 are at least on a portion of the roof panels possible, usually because they are flat roofs or because they are not visible from the street. In order subsequently to be able to assess the effectiveness of solar panels, there is a Solar Atlas, on which to find the estimated light output.



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Van Gogh’s Bedroom

In celebration of its upcoming exhibition ‘Van Gogh’s Bedrooms’, the Art Institute of Chicago has created a human-scale replica of the most iconic bedroom in art. Beginning today, interested guests can rent the simply furnished, brightly colored space in Chicago for only $10 a night through airbnb, listed by ‘Van Gogh’ himself. ‘I’m charging $10 for no other reason than that I need to buy paint,’ the host says. ‘However, I will be happy to provide you with tickets to my exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago.’

The accommodation reproduces Van Gogh’s 1888 painting of his own bedroom in the ‘Yellow House’ in Arles, France. The Dutch artist outfitted the space with minimal, pine furniture and his own paintings. This intimate space held special significance for Van Gogh, who created three distinct paintings of it between 1888 — 1889. The exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago brings together all three versions for the first time in North America, offering an in-depth look at their making and meaning to Van Gogh in his relentless quest for home.

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Monks on Blood Street

Whoever walks through Bloedstraat (Blood Street) will not easily believe that this somewhat sinister name is linked to a monastery that stood here before. Between 1464 and 1578 the Franciscan monastery determined the townscape of the red light district at Nieuwmarkt (New Market).

minderbroedersklooster-amsterdamThe friars were followers of St. Francis of Assisi. The name of these monks aka Minderbroeders showed their austere lifestyle. In the Franciscan order, charity and caring for the sick, poor and needy was central. In 1462 the friars founded a convent in Amsterdam. This was one of the last of a total of 21 monasteries that were founded in Amsterdam between 1393 and 1494. Most monasteries were located on Oudezijde (Old Side) in the eastern part of the city. In 1464 the construction of the complex was started, which extended from the current alleys Barndesteeg to Molensteeg between Oudezijds Achterburgwal and Kloveniersburgwal / Nieuwmarkt. The core consisted of a square complex of buildings around a courtyard surrounded by a chapel, cemetery, gardens and various smaller buildings.

In 1566 the Iconoclasm raged through the northern Netherlands, where Catholic churches and monasteries were destroyed and looted. Also the Franciscan monastery fell prey. The Spanish King Philip II, the then ruler, sent in 1567 the Duke of Alva to restore order with an iron fist. Alva took in Amsterdam moved into the Franciscan monastery and established his Council of Troubles. This court was soon known as the Blood Council. The final end of the monastery came in 1578 with the Alteration, where the Catholic city government was deposed and monasteries and churches got new destinations. The friars were expelled from the city and after a sacking their monastery was closed and followed a series of renovations.

opgraving-bloedstraatIn 2001, during excavations at Bloedstraat several traces of the history of the monastery was recovered in the soil. This was originally a marshy alder forest area, which was raised at the end of the fourteenth century with peat turf to make it ready for construction. The archaeologists found remains of a wall of the refectory, the dining room of 6.5 x 14 m, and the wine cellar. As usual with great buildings from that period, as St. Anthonispoort (St Anthony Gate), currently known as Waag on Nieuwmarkt , which is from 1488, the walls were cemented by a heavy oak frame with poles inside. The wood of this foundation grid was cut down in 1462. Also remnants of the two cemeteries of the monastery were found, one in the cloister next to the refectory and one along the Oudezijds Achterburgwal, which was excavated in part in 2008. Here they found eight graves that consisted of wooden coffins with the remains of four men and four women aged 20 to 67 years. From this we can conclude that not only monks were buried in this part of the monastery.


St Anthony Gate aka Waag

During the renovation of the monastery at the end of the sixteenth century, the grounds were landscaped with new streets and alleys like Bloedstraat, Monnikenstraat, Gordijnensteeg and Monnikendwarsstraat with houses along it. Despite these alterations, the structure of the Franciscan monastery is still recognizable on the map. The streets form a square around the central cloister. About the origin of the name Bloedstraat there are many different ideas, ranging from the infamous Blood Council of Alva to the blood chamber, the operating room of the monastery.


Style-conscious Superheroes

Italian illustrator Federico Babina depicts the designer dwellings of style-conscious superheroes. Without deliberately expressing it, comic books offer a rich architectural ambiance that sets the scene for the protagonists’ story, whether it centers around a gritty, dense metropolis or an imagined, otherworldly landscape. With comics as one of the first encounters with architecture during his childhood, Federico Babina traveled through Gotham City with Batman, and New York with Superman and Spiderman — an influence which he says ‘helped the growth and education of a generation of architects.’

Today, Babina imagines the living spaces of some of the most iconic superheroes in the history of graphic novels. the 17 compositions that make up the series ‘Interheroes’ depict a cross section of each interior environment within the home, revealing a glimpse of each figure’s personal habits and habitats. The shadow of the protagonist looms within the frame — creator of the colors, shapes and design objects that make up the spaces. ‘I tried to create images in balance between playful codes of cartoon and the expressive rigor of architecture,’ Babina says. ‘It is a short architectural journey into the world of comics through the script of 17 small illustrated stories. The chairs, armchairs, lamps, walls and the paintings are in these interiors the key pieces that make up the mosaic that speaks about its host.’

I’m just wondering why the Fantastic 4 have to share one seat…

More art by Federico Babina


Keeping yourself warm


Peat bricks

Someone who is keeping him/herself warm is well-off financially. Of course this is meant figuratively, but when this proverb is taken literally, this was certainly the case in the past. Someone who was rich, had it in the winter months warmer than someone with much less money. If the canals and the Amstel froze, the water supply was in danger. Winter inventories should be enough until the spring. And there was a need fuel to cook and stay warm. A lot of fuel.

The poor of the city received weekly support, in the form of bread, butter, and a basket of peat. With that peat a one room house could be stoked hot, but most of these houses were not. A basket of peat was hardly sufficient. Often, the peat was still a bit damp, which caused a lot of smoke and odor. Those who could afford wood were therefore better off. Dry wood burns stable, gives little smoke and almost no smell.


Cast iron stove in Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder

A good hearth was essential. In an open-hearth a fire was built. A good chimney caused the smoke away upwards, an iron fireplace plate behind the hearth radiated extra heat into the room. Good ventilation was important and sloping backs in the chimney could yield some increase, but still a drawback was that one would lose in all pretty much warmth. Even in a well-heated room you had dress with extra layers and often a foot stove was used as an additional source of heat close to the body.

In order to optimally use the combustion of fuel in the Golden Age, one had to have dig deep into their pockets. In the ideal situation, people bought a cast iron stove, which was coated on the inside with refractory brick. In this closed stove they stoked a fire, so that the iron plates gave the heat evenly off into the space. An additional benefit was the fire prevention. The smoke was derived via a pipe through the chimney, which was also better for one’s health.


Cast iron stove in Rembrandt House

Cast iron stoves from the seventeenth century are very rare. We know that these heaters have stood in City Hall* on Dam Square and were also found in prominent houses. Who wants to get an idea how a heater from that time looks like, can go take a look at the one in museum Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder (Museum Our Lord in the Attic. A 17th century canal house with a hidden Catholic church in the attic) or in the Rembrandt House Museum.

*City Hall on Dam Square is better known nowadays as the Royal Palace Amsterdam.



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Squabbling over land

Desihn Victoria Hotel, the blanc empty space was for the two buildings, but of course a spanner was thrown...

Design Victoria Hotel, the blanc empty space was for the two buildings, but of course a spanner was thrown…

The bestseller ‘Public Works’ by writer Thomas Rosenboom from 1999 is part of the Dutch literary heritage. From December 3, 2015 the film version of this book could be seen in the cinema. In the story, the struggle around the construction of monumental Victoria Hotel takes center stage. Who walks past the hotel on Prins Hendrikkade, will notice something strange. Because the facade on this side includes two old buildings where the hotel is built. This is the very ground where the battle of the story is about. But also for the construction of the prestigious hotel has already fought there for this reason.

Texelse Kade corner of Damrak

Texelse Kade corner of Damrak

The land on the top of Damrak and the corner of Prins Hendrikkade (then known as Texelse Kade) was already in the sixteenth century coveted. At the place where now the two old houses are standing, wood merchant Meeus Adamsz built in 1541 a house with a summer kitchen at the rear. This allowed the owner of the house, which was around the corner on Damrak 2, that he could no longer get to the back of his house to lift up goods there. This problem became so heated that the aggrieved owner went to the Great Council of Mechelen and claimed that he had a right of way, so he could still reach the back of his house.

Amsterdam Victoria Hotel around 1900

Amsterdam Victoria Hotel around 1900

But in the following centuries this part of town was a regular source of disputes between neighbors. Unlike often thought the still visible low house has always been low. When the owner wanted to renovate his house in 1602, his neighbor resisted. He made a case and finally allowed the new building that still stands today, having only one floor. When the house was sold in 1649 this provision was again repeated. In 1736 the facade was redone. The house was then occupied by a surgeon, later it was a shipping agent and a bookseller. In 1845 tailor Carstens came to live there, and in 1865 he bought the place. More than 20 years later, Carstens together with its neighbor took opposition against the construction of the Victoria Hotel.

The way it looks today

The way it looks today

In 1888 the German architect JF Henkenhaf made a design for the construction of the Victoria Hotel, the first hotel in the city to be constructed with lifts and electric light. To build this great hotel, the ten lots of houses on Damrak and Prins Hendrikkade had to be purchased. The owners of two houses on Prins Hendrikkade asked for their homes such an absurdly high price that the company that built the hotel, was ‘not amused’. The result was that the hotel was built around the dwellings, taking care that the age-old quarrels to this piece of Amsterdam soil is still visible today.

Advertorial for the hotel, when you look closely the disputed side is one wall, instead of the real situation.

Advertorial for the hotel, when you look closely the disputed side is one wall, instead of the real situation.

JF Henkenhaf, together with J Ebert also designed the Kurhaus in Scheveningen.


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Water, Water Everywhere And Not A Drop To Drink…

On average, a native of Amsterdam, uses about 150 liters of drinking water per day*. Without thinking about it, we turn on the tap for clean water. Now we take it for granted, but in spite of the abundance of water in Amsterdam, the drinking water supply in the capital caused a headache for centuries.

Water from the canals, for a long time an open sewer, was because of its pollution unfit for consumption. Water from the IJ was again too salty. For drinking water they had to rely on other sources. Rainwater from roofs was collected in rain barrels and wells could be achieved in groundwater from deeper soil layers. In addition, fresh water from the Vecht river was supplied by barges. Unfortunately, all these sources also had their disadvantages. In summer, rain barrels were quickly empty, the water in the wells was contaminated by underground seepage from septic tanks and supplying water came at a price. In the second half of the 17th century, hence came the idea for so-called water cellars.

12000-liter-watertank-2015Water cellars were bricked and closed bins buried in the basement or the courtyard level. They were filled with rainwater that ran in the bin from the rooftops through spouts. Via a lead tube, the water was pumped into the kitchen. In order to keep the quality of the stored water level in the containers they had to be truly waterproof. Therefore, the water cellars were walled with baked hard non-porous stone and water-resistant mortar. The inside was covered with glazed tiles or bricks with an additional layer, which was cemented with the flat side against the wall. To avoid the floating of empty cellars in the ground, the cellars were made with a heavy bottom. Floors made of seven layers of brick and nearly 40 cm thick were no exception. The top of the cellars were closed with a barrel vault. Archaeological research of the Department of Monuments and Archaeology shows that the water cellars varied greatly in size. For instance, they detected cellars with a capacity of 2,000 liters up to 100,000 liters. Although water cellars have long been in use, this turned out not to be the solution to the water problem. During quality research in 1794, the water was found to have an excessive lead content. Not only the gutters, but also the lead inlet and outlet pipes where responsible for a sizable lead contamination.

extra-bekleding-aan-binnenzijde+loden-buisWriter and state advocate Jacob van Lennep suggested around 1840 the idea to transport fresh water from the dunes to Amsterdam. In 1851 he founded the Amsterdam Dune Water Company and they began with the construction of the piping system. Eighteen months later, in June 1853, Amsterdam was the first city in the Netherlands with a fresh drinking water supply. The water came via a pipe system from the dunes near Haarlem to the city. The tap was located at the Willemspoort now Haarlemmerplein. Amsterdammers could buy here for one cent a bucket of drinking water. On the first day 4450 buckets were sold, a number that within a week would grow to more than 10 000 buckets a day. Since 2007, each Amsterdam household is connected to the water supply system. In the episode “Amsterdam, een kolerestad” from the Dutch history series De IJzeren Eeuw (the Iron Age) you can view the origin of the water supply system. And the water cellars? From the nineteenth century, they were out of use. The heavy brick boxes were allowed to conveniently sit in the ground. Today they come back to daylight during foundation repair and basement construction.

* Drinking water is also used to flush toilets. A liter of tap water costs in the Netherlands on average € 0.0015. Taste wise its one of the best in the world, and… without chlorine!


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