Essential Architecture-  Amsterdam


The "Flat Style"

Amstel 216
(Danckerts' Grachtenboekje)

From 1665 onwards the popularity of the pilaster facade started to decline. Between 1665 and 1700 the Classicist style became even more austere. We speak of the ‘flat style’. Architects reduced decorative elements to an absolute minimum, dispensing with pilasters altogether, or using them only to emphasise the entrances of their buildings. The final stage of Dutch Classicism relies on a rhythmical approach to the arrangement of the various parts of the facade, on the inherent expressiveness of unadorned surfaces and well-cut window frames to achieve an effect of elegant simplicity and dignity. Decoration is relegated to the central bay, the entrance and the middle section of the cornice. The emphasis is placed on the central axis, which becomes more and more pronounced outside as well as inside the building. Adriaan Dortsman (1636-1682) is commonly considered the champion of the flat style, but it was Philips Vingboons who paved the way in 1638 when he designed Herengracht 168 and dispensed with pilasters for the first time. Vingboons was versatile enough to adjust his designs to the new era. His design for Herengracht 412 (1664-1667) is basically a pilaster facade. However, he used pilasters only to articulate the middle ressault, leaving the adjacent bays unadorned. Subsequently, only flat facades were built. An important factor in the rise of the flat style was the increased building activity which resulted from the 1663 urban expansion plan. The ring of canals was expanded beyond the Leidsegracht, completing the crescent shape of the Amsterdam City centre. The new residential areas catered for the wealthy urban elite of the time, i.e. rich citizens who could afford large double mansions designed by the top-class architects of the time. Among the mansions designed by Vingboons in the flat style are: Herengracht 450 (1663) commissioned by Joseph Deutz; Keizersgracht 577 (1665) commissioned by Isaac Nijs and Herengracht 466 (The Eagle, 1669) owned by Jeronimus Haase.

Keizersgracht 604 (1670)

Herengracht 462 (1672)

After 1670 the younger generation of architects, with Adriaan Dortsman and Elias Bouman in the lead, continued to develop the new flat style. The facade of Herengracht 450 illustrates the typical Dortsman approach with its flat blocks of stone and pronounced joints which create the impression of a stylised form of rustication, while the corners are articulated by pilaster strips. More Dortsman facades: Herengracht 619 (1667-1669); Keizersgracht 672-674 (Van Raey Houses, 1671); Herengracht 462 (Sweedenrijk, Empire of Sweden, 1672); Amstel 216 (1672); Keizersgracht 730-734 (1672); the block which includes Herengracht 621-629 and Amstel 208-212 (1673). Keizersgracht 604 (Int Derde Vredejaar, Third Peaceyear, 1670), a flat brick facade, is also attributed to Dortsman.

The flat style is eminently suited to large double mansions, but the narrow single houses were affected by the new fashion as well. The neck-gable lost its pilasters and became a flat facade with sandstone ornaments relegated to the top gable.

Herengracht 508-510

Often the exuberant crolls which adorn the neck-gables at this time seem to compensate for the lack of decoration elsewhere. Elaborate sculptures of human figures and animals were often placed on either side of the neck. Examples: Herengracht 390-392 (1665), Herengracht 504-506 (1670), Herengracht 508-510 (1685).

The flat style neck-gable finally leads to the bell-shaped gable, when the area commonly reserved for the crolls was incorporated into the shape of the neck. This effect was achieved by using brick only and dispensing with the sandstone elements, e.g. Keizersgracht 716 (1671).


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