Shortly after stepping out of the bus in Amsterdam a couple of things started to stand out. The architecture, people’s willingness to help, their ability to communicate in English, their bluntness and nightly opening hours and the visible patterns in randomness. Today we will focus on the first one. The Dutch need to combine water canals with all sorts of structures and they let themselves put art and creativity into that. Where engineering meets art, are the Netherlands. Architecture has many great examples of that. Let’s take a walk through the city and do the breakdown.
We start in the Centraal Station, a building put to use in 1889 that overwhelms you with its size and detail in a Gothic and Renaissance combination. Imagining that this is only the second biggest train station in the country is hard. Its neighbours: the library, the concert hall, 3-storey Chinese restaurant and the Nemo centre of science, that looks like a whale proudly caught in the moment when above the water level. All those buildings are amazing in a way, present bald solutions and show how dynamically this city is growing. When you walk down south looking for that historical landmarks you walk past typical Amsterdam canal houses. One tightly glued to another like some sort of a puzzle. Facades range from angel white to stealth black, vary in gabs from those often hang pulling hooks and some houses are even crooked. The hook is a necessity because of the staircases, that are frighteningly steep and narrow. To me it screams that returning home wasted here is not popular. Big windows however, combined with the hook, let you furnish your home freely. The size of the windows creates at least two effects. Firstly, it’s hard to put a radiator under it, which then causes heating airflow problems and secondly you can look into most houses with ease. The latter is a long-lasting port city tradition. Curtains here are rare. Privacy seems to be coming from mutual respect.
You get through the city passing by a mixture of all influences, a combination of cultures and you get to Museumplein. The area where most important of museums are in close proximity. It’s very well thought out, if you ask me. The magnitude of the Rijksmuseum, the biggest museum in the country, the charming simplicity of the Heineken museum, leading designer thought in Stedelijkmuseum or simple yet world famous the I AM AMSTERDAM letters all can be found there. If your brain gets overworked there’s Vondelpark awaiting nearby to give you space to reboot. In the summer, it’s crowded but it still retains the chill atmosphere and even hosts free to donate concerts. When walking south some more the first sky scrapers start to appear. From World Trade Centre, through Mondrian tower (125m) to the highest Rembrandt tower (150m) there is seven constructions breaking the arbitrarily magical 100 meters. It feels like good chunk of the world might be run from here. Traveling further that direction entertainment giants Amsterdam Arena and Ziggo Dome dominate the landscape.
Moving now to the west side we encounter a delicate balance between old type Dutch terraced houses and a developer’s creative race manifesting itself in new (especially tall) constructions. It’s impossible to find two newly raised living buildings that are alike. Some of them had this great idea to create multi storey buildings with separate entrances for people living on the ground floor. The value of such apartment then raises in relation to other, while it’s much more convenient for the owner. I myself live in an 8x terraced house, a new type of Dutch standard where blue doors are accompanied by same size window. That window is especially useful when the post leaves your package at your neighbours, which in here is a second checkbox on the delivery form. Slotermeer park where another set of I AM AMSTERDAM letters are (the so-called ‘travelling letters’), this time turned into an outdoor calisthenics training field, guide us north towards the Sloterdijk station. In contrast to the central, this station is an epitome of the future. Trains leaving this station appear to be levitating on seemingly freestanding platforms and railroads. Big light bulb heart displaying flags of all countries enlightens bike stands wrapping around the station. All the way to here, bike tracks were smartly entwined into the landscape. Nested in between universities, hotels, corporations and even the behemoth of the tax office – the station means we are close. Just a quick walk and we arrive at the Dutchies. You’re home.
Out of all examples where creativity and art are incorporated into architecture here, the most puzzling one is just a rock throw away. Under the bridge created for the highway, there seems to be a well-lit, colourful oasis caged away by steel bars. Ever since I first found Dutchies I asked myself (and many others) what is the purpose of this? Let’s contemplate this together. Maybe it’s a reflection of nature, because under the bridge and an oases rain rarely falls. Maybe it’s a metaphor for a tropic island and the bars represent toughness of the ocean that you have to beat to get there. Maybe it represents striving for a stressless tropical life, unattainable for most. Maybe it represents vacation after you have no more leave days. Maybe it is art installation of a fatamorgana, because both can only be observed, but never experienced. And finally, maybe we should take physical approach of Occam’s razor and assume only it’s there because someone put it there.
Whatever the reason, it makes you wonder. That thoughtful, artistic installation, that small touch perfectly represents the freedom and baldness of architectural solutions in this city. They say Amsterdam is a state of mind. Maybe it is true. Taking a stroll like above and seeing the imprint of different generations on the style makes you wonder. How engineering thought is priceless and how subtle art creates exciting dynamic in otherwise mundane places. Everyone finds something that takes their imagination for a ride. Enjoy discovering Amsterdam, and let me know what you found the craziest!