Fairly recently I took my first trip to Amsterdam, it took a long time to happen.
I’d always been dissuaded by the things that others though told me were the attractions of the city. My head was clouded with the reminisces of others. The tales of weekends lost in a haze of smoke held no appeal and the Sex Pistols line about “A cheap holiday in other peoples misery” always came to mind, when people tried to tell me that you “had” to see the red-light district.
Gradually though enough people persuaded me that there was more to the city that that. Of course there had to be, I’d just backed myself into a cultural corner. Well the time had come to challenge my preconceptions and around an hour after leaving Bristol we were in Amsterdam and ready to make an amazing architectural discovery.
When people talk of the look of the city, it is obvious that the first thing which comes up are the canals. It would be crazy to argue that that this isn’t the defining image of the city. They produce a city with a flow and rhythm unlike any other. Yet head slightly out of the tourist thronged city centre and you can find the most beautiful, bold and inventive use of the humble brick that the world has ever seen.
We were staying just south of the city centre, opposite the pretty Sarphatipark. Our hotel room was so small that in addition to our quickly introduced breathing out rota and no more that one person standing up at a time rule, we were certainly encouraged to hit the streets early and often. Every now and then on our journeys, we would be excitedly pointing at large municipal buildings, with sweeping curves, inventive geometric patterns, amazing chimneys and stunning balconies and almost always formed from beautifully sculptured brick. On and they also have some of the most delightful doors that you could ever wish to see.
Then whilst in the shop at the Stedelijk Museum, we chanced upon a book that opened our eyes to the full glory of The Amsterdam School. “On the Waves of the City” is a book that provides six cycling tours (or walking in our case) around the greatest examples of the building style that was in force for around twenty years at the start of the 20th century.
The architects of the Amsterdam School drew inspiration from the British Arts and Crafts Movement, Expressionist German design and was to prove influential to the creators of the Art Deco and Bauhaus movements. It was also a very political movement, determined to improve the living conditions of the working class people of the city, in terms of housing, schools and libraries. In the same way that that Soviet craftsmen turned the Moscow underground into “Palace’s for the People” the architects of the Amsterdam School strove to improve the day to day quality of the life of the city’s proletariat by providing them with buildings of the highest quality.
Sadly we didn’t have to complete more than a fraction of the six tours in the book. The good news though, is that leaves us plenty of scope for things to do on a return trip to Amsterdam.