Essential Architecture-  Amsterdam


Stepped gables (±1600-±1665)

Bloemgracht 87-89-91

Top gables of this type taper off to a small platform step by step like two flights of stairs joining forces at the top. They are a feature of the Renaissance style (1600-1665). At this time the straight lines of the horizontal sides of the triangular gable top were considered unaesthetic and steps were used to conceal them. In order to avoid confusion it is important to realise that the stepped gable revived during the 19th century as a feature of the neo-Renaissance style (see below). 17th Century Amsterdam was full of stepped gables lined up in rows. Only about a hundred survive today.

At one time the stepped gable was so popular, that even double houses were equipped with this type of top gable. Two early 17th century double houses are unique examples of richly ornamented stepped top gables placed in front of the steep roofs which have their ridges running parallel with the canal: Herengracht 170-172 (±1617) and Keizersgracht 123 (1622).

Dutch Renaissance

Herengracht 84-86 (1615)

Initially there was no fully-developed Amsterdam version of the Renaissance style. A characteristic feature of the Dutch Renaissance is the large number of symmetrically placed steps, which are all the same size, and the use of many small blocks of white sandstone along most of the edges and the relieving arches above the windows. Some examples of top gables in Dutch Renaissance style are: Geldersekade 97 (±1600), Nieuwmarkt 20-22 (1605), Oudezijds Voorburgwal 14 (1605), Oudezijds Voorburgwal 249 (1610), Kattegat 4 and 6 (1614), Rapenburg 13 (1614), Herengracht 84 (1615) and Nieuwebrugsteeg 13 (1618).

Amsterdam Renaissance in the Manner of Hendrick de Keyser

OZ Voorburgwal 57 (1615)

Slightly later the Amsterdam Renaissance style in the manner of Hendrick de Keyser became all the rage. Fewer and larger steps were built and they were no longer all the same size. Besides, each of the steps was decorated with a scroll or some other ornament. The relief arches above the windows were often S-shaped (arculated arches) and window-piers were provided with pilasters. At times it is hard to make out the individual steps, covered as they are by flamboyant ornamentation. Some examples: Oudezijds Voorburgwal 57 (1615), Herengracht 120 (1615), Herengracht 170-172 (±1617), Herengracht 203 (±1618), Keizersgracht 123 (1622) and Dam 11 (formerly Warmoesstraat 201, Huis 's-Hertogenbosch, 1632).

Plain Amsterdam Renaissance

Henrick de Keyser's style proved very influential. However, a less elaborate version soon developed, the "plain" Amsterdam Renaissance. The stepped gables became simpler and began to resemble the Dutch Renaissance style again. However, in contrast to the Dutch Renaissance, the Amsterdam plain style used larger decorative blocks of sandstone instead of many small segments. Moreover, it was fashionable to place the windows in niches in such a way that the window-piers started to resemble pilasters. Good examples are: Herengracht 81 (±1625), Herengracht 77 (1632), Bloemgracht 87-89-91 (1642), Korte Prinsengracht 5 (1653) and Herengracht 361 (±1655). An illustrative example in a very austere version of the plain Renaissance style is Rusland 9 (1659).

19th Century Revival

In the course of the 19th century many neo-Renaissance stepped gables were built, but they are not as splendid as their 17th century predecessors. The strict rules governing the proportions of 17th century architecture were no longer observed. Therefore, most 19th century examples look as if they are a little ‘out of shape’. A neo-Renaissance stepped gable is to be found at Rokin 147. Its next-door neighbour is the splendid neck-gable of Rokin 145.


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