Palaces for Workers

AMS-museum-het-schipAt the Spaarndammerplantsoen you’ll find three Amsterdam School housing blocks designed by architect Michel de Klerk. The most striking, and well-known block of the three in the complex that he designed last, Het Schip (The Boat). Who goes to this spectacular block will have more associations with a fairy tale than laborers.

Spaarndammerbuurt in Amsterdam West emerged at the end of the nineteenth century and was set up for the workers who worked in the nearby ports. In the beginning it was a shabby neighborhood where landowners earned from poor homes. But after the onset of the Housing Act in 1901 the streetscape changed. With the implementation of this law a special Dutch housing tradition started. In response to the appalling living conditions of the workers a unique collaboration was created between government, corporations and architects, with the aim of achieving the highest possible, affordable quality housing for all.

Masonry and sculpture on Museum Het Schip
Masonry and sculpture on Museum Het Schip

The by Spaarndammerplantsoen, Zaanstraat, Hembrugstraat and Oostzaanstraat enclosed residential complex Het Schip was designed by De Klerk in 1917, commissioned by housing association Eigen Haard (Your Own Place). In addition to the original 102 laborer houses, it also included a school building, a clubhouse and on the side of the Spaarndammerplantsoen, a post office. The latter was an idea of Arie Keppler, director of the Municipal Housing Agency and driving force behind the construction of these housing units. Early twentieth century, the workers received their weekly pay cash in the pub. A portion was immediately squandered. With a post office nearby he hoped the workers would save some more.

Amsterdam School details in the School-house
Amsterdam School details in the School-house

Het Schip may be a spectacular example of how attractive a housing project could be. All features of the Amsterdam School are present here: sculptural, expressive forms of brick, lots of variety of volumes and materials and rich carved decorations. There is a link between mass and individuality. It is a large block of houses, and yet every house has something unique.

On June 12, Museum Het Schip was Amsterdam School Monument of the Month. In recent months they worked hard on the renovation of the museum. Visitors were given on this day a unique opportunity to see this iconic monument in a way that was not previously possible. Parts of the renovated building were for the first time open to the public.