Essential Architecture-  Amsterdam


Dutch Classicism

  Town Hall (now Royal Palace),

The year 1625 marks the advent of Dutch Classicism which in due course came to replace Renaissance architecture altogether. The period 1640-1665 is commonly regarded as the hey-day of Dutch Classicism, a style created by important architects such as Jacob van Campen (1595-1657) and Philips Vingboons (1607-1678). Dutch Classicism, sometimes called ‘Classical Baroque’, was a strong reaction against the Mannerist tradition of Hendrick de Keyser and his followers. The rules laid down in the Italian treatises were strictly observed. Palladio as well as Scamozzi, his colleague from Northern Italy, had provided detailed descriptions of the ideal sizes and proportions as well as the correct sequence of the five classical orders (Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, Composite). The popularisation of the ideals of classical architecture, which represented the culmination of architectural design, coincided with the rise of a new class-conscious elite, consisting of wealthy merchants whose aspirations were reflected in a modern and above all dignified lifestyle. The reticence and austerity of the new architecture catered for this target group. The fact that this small group of people dominated the Amsterdam scene, both economically and culturally as well as politically, is clearly demonstrated by the fact that Jacob van Campen was hired to build the new town hall (now Royal Palace 1648-1665) in the Dam Square. It was to be the most prestigious building in town executed in the new Classicist style.


  Keizersgracht 177 (1625)

However, the new town hall was not the first Classicist building that arose in Amsterdam. In 1625 the Coymans brothers had commissioned from Jacob van Campen a large building on the Keizersgracht which was to provide separate accommodations for both Joan and Balthasar Coymans. Keizersgracht 177 is the only mansion Van Campen built in Amsterdam. It is by far the earliest representative of the new style and has come to occupy a unique place on the list of historic buildings. The large facade is crowned by an imposing cornice and has been provided with pilaster decorations. The attic above the cornice was raised in the 19th century. Strikingly the top floor has Composite pilasters, whereas the main floor has Ionic pilasters, an arrangement that more meticulous classicists would not have allowed.

Large facades of double mansions (50-60 feet wide) are ideally suited to do justice to classical pilaster orders and to accommodate cornices with or without triangular frontons. Important examples are: Singel 548 (1639-1642) commissioned by Joan Huydecoper and destroyed in 1943; Kloveniersburgwal 95 (Poppen House, 1642) commissioned by Joan Poppen; Kloveniersburgwal 77 (Bambeeck House, 1650) built for Nicolaas van Bambeeck; Oudezijds Voorburgwal 316 (Jacob’s Ladder, 1655), commissioned by Pieter de Mayer; Kloveniersburgwal 29 (1662), also called the Trippenhuis after the brothers Hendrick and Louys Trip; Herengracht 386 (1665) built for Carel Gerards and last but not least Herengracht 412 (1667) commissioned by Guillaume Belin la Garde. All of the houses listed above were designed by Philips Vingboons, with the exception of Kloveniersburgwal 29, for which Philips’s brother Justus was responsible. The peculiar house at Herengracht 388 (1665) is also attributed to Justus, although the evidence remains inconclusive.

Adapting the classical orders to the facades of narrower single-plot houses (25-30 feet) presented problems. After all pillars and pilasters need space in order to be shown to advantage. Some early attempts were made by unknown architects: Herengracht 200-204 (The Eagle, circa 1620, pulled down at the end of the 18th century); Oudezijds Voorburgwal 239 (1634) and Rozengracht 48. It was Philips Vingboons, one-time assistant to Van Campen and the most important designer of Amsterdam canal houses, who rose to the challenge. His application of the classical orders to the narrow facades of single-plot houses led to the development of the neck-gable. He created an ‘abridged’ version of the stepped gable, i.e. the neck-gable, to create space for the classical orders. However, even Vingboons could not always solve the problem of adapting the prescribed sizes and pilasters to the space available to him.

OZ Voorburgwal 239
Keizersgracht 319

Examples: Keizersgracht 319 (1639), Rokin 145 (1642/43). Sometimes Vingboons dispensed with pilasters: Herengracht 168 (1638). Herengracht 364-370 (Cromhout Houses, 1660/62).

Singel 83-85 (1652) Brouwersgracht 218 (1650)

The Classicist style of Van Campen and Vingboons found many followers in Amsterdam. In many cases the future owners of the premises could not afford to hire a big name and had their facades designed by the contractors who were responsible for the actual building of the houses. This kind of architecture is sometimes jocularly referred to as ‘contractors’ classicism’. Examples: Herengracht 70-72 (1643) and Singel 83-85 (The Swan, 1652).

The neck-gable, Vingboons’ trademark, was also widely copied: Beulingstraat 25 (1653); Herengracht 59 (1659). One cheap version economises on the entablature by having the central pilasters go all the way up into the neck, thus saving the cost involved in building a pediment proper: Bloemgracht 108 (1644); Brouwersgracht 218 (1650); Prinsengracht 36 (1650) and Korte Prinsengracht 9 (1653).


Special thanks to the Amsterdam Bureau of Monuments and Archeology website,