Essential Architecture-  Amsterdam



Row of warehouses Keizersgracht 483-489

Warehouses form an integral and important part of Amsterdam’s industrial heritage. No other European city has within its boundaries such a large number of historic warehouses. Why this situation exists is not hard to explain. In the 17th century Amsterdam was the number one staple market of the world and nearly all commodities which changed hands passed through the Amsterdam warehouses at one stage. Until circa 1600 it was common practice for a merchant to store his commodities in the loft of his house. As trade intensified, the demand for storage space increased. At the beginning of the 17th century warehouses were built everywhere. Like the residences of their owners they were tall, narrow and deep.

Groundplan and cross-section
of the normal warehouse type

The average warehouse plot is approximately 30 meters deep, just like the merchants’ houses. However, the groundplan of a house is divided up into a front and a back section with a courtyard in the middle, whereas warehouses consist of a single massive block with all the available storage space put to good use.

Singel 2-2A

Warehouses are easily recognisable by the vertical arrangement of shuttered attic windows, sometimes rectangular in shape but often provided with semi-circular lintels. The most frequent warehouse top gable is the funnel-shaped gable. This type of warehouse was common until well into the 18th century. Obviously this type of building was functional enough to keep meeting demands for many generations. Consequently, it is not easy to distinguish between 17th and 18th century warehouses on the basis of their outward appearance. There are many examples.

Herengracht 43-45

The most frequent type is the ordinary single plot warehouse, of which many examples survive today. The usual width is 5 to 8 meters, the same as a single plot merchant’s house. In many cases warehouses were placed side by side along the canal side, forming a so-called ‘warehouse row’. Less frequent is the double warehouse (approximately 15 meters wide) with two identical funnel-shaped gables. Even rarer are double warehouses with a single trapezoid shaped gable top.

‘s Lands Zeemagazijn (1656-1657)
now Maritime Museum
and a reconstruction of the Amsterdam,
a ship once forming part of the fleet of the Dutch East India Co.

Finally Amsterdam has several king-size warehouses, once owned by large multinational companies such as the Dutch East India Company or government agencies. A fine example is ‘s Lands Zeemagazijn by Daniel Stalpaert. The building was erected for the purpose of storing the supplies of the Admiralty.

A brief look at historic buildings in Amsterdam will show you that all canal houses have hoist beams. After all trade and commerce are at the basis of Amsterdam life and most houses were built as merchants’ houses combining residential and business functions. Hoist beams were indispensable. Their purpose was to tackle commodities up into the loft. It stands to reason that such provisions belonged to the standard equipment of warehouses. Many warehouses were provided with the latest technology in tackling gear.


The most important book on Amsterdam warehouse architecture is still:
Dr. Magda Révész-Alexander, Die Alten Lagerhäuser Amsterdams, Martinus Nijhoff, 1954


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