Essential Architecture-  Amsterdam


Wooden facades (±1200-±1550)

Two wooden houses
on Goudsbloemstraat
(Het Brandspuitenboek, 1690)

For the very oldest houses a technique was used that is known as timber framing (wooden frames filled up with clay). It is very likely hipped gables were common. In the 15th and 16th centuries they were replaced by straightforward triangular gables. Both types belong to the category of the so-called hall houses, i.e. single spaces with wooden walls and wooden roofs. The hall house remained the predominant type of Amsterdam house until about 1550. Most of the wooden houses were lost in the great fires of 1421 and 1452. Immediately after the 1452 fire a by-law was passed stipulating that nobody was permitted to build a house with wooden walls and a wooden roof on penalty of a considerable fine (Zantkuyl 1993, p. 21). However, the by-law only pertained to roofs and side walls, leaving facades and rear walls aside. It took a century for Amsterdam home owners to start observing these regulations (subsequent editions of the by-law were passed in 1478, 1483, 1491, 1492, 1494, 1497, 1504, 1507, 1521 and 1524). The 1521 by-law included the additional stipulation that existing wooden side walls had to be replaced by stone ones. The 1525 edition goes even further: wooden facades and rear walls were banned as well. The 1525 by-law was re-confirmed many times; the final and definitive by-law prohibiting wooden facades and rear walls was passed as late as 1669.

167 Herengracht
94 Keizersgracht

The 1544 city map by Cornelis Anthonisz. allows us to draw up some statistics: 64.5% of all houses had no more than one storey underneath the roof (while 59% of this group had wooden facades as well); in total 51.8% of the Amsterdam houses had wooden facades. The 1625 edition of the same map illustrates the transition from wood to stone: 34% of the houses on the east side of the Herengracht (built after 1585) were wooden houses while only 9% of the houses on the west side (built after 1613) belong to this category. On the Keizersgracht (built after 1613) there were even fewer wooden houses: 2.5% for the east side and 3.6% for the west side. More than two centuries later Caspar Philips included only two wooden houses in his 1767 edition of the Grachtenboek, i.e. Herengracht 167 (near the Oude Leliestraat) and Keizersgracht 94 (near de Prinsenstraat). Besides the small houses belonging to the Hamershofje (Herengracht 373-377) had wooden facades.

Begijnhof 34
Zeedijk 1

In the course of the 16th century the low wooden houses were replaced by a taller type (one additional storey). The wooden facade remained common until about 1600. In 1669 the city administrators finally succeeded in effectively prohibiting the building of wooden facades. Only two wooden houses survive today: Begijnhof 34 (approx. 1425) and Zeedijk 1 (approx. 1550). Only the former has a wooden gable top; the latter is positioned in such a way that one of its side walls faces the street.

Timber frame
Begijnhof 34
(the Amsterdams Historisch Museum has on display a wooden scale model of this house)

Both houses are representatives of the later taller type of houses with wooden side walls. A look inside proves that they are genuine wooden houses, based on supporting timber frames. In the course of the 16th century houses did not only grow taller, they were also gradually "turned to stone". Many Amsterdam houses still have their original timber frames with stone facades attached to them (by means of cramps). Often these are original wooden houses clad in very thin stone walls. The stone outer walls are not supporting walls so builders could afford to make them wafer-thin, cutting the costs in the process. Some examples: Warmoesstraat 83 (approx. 1400), Warmoesstraat 5 (approx. 1500) and Begijnhof 2-3 (approx. 1425). A medieval timber frame can be recognised by its Gothic details such as the nibs decorating the corbel pieces and the consoles supporting the wooden beams.


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