Houses in Amsterdam are narrow. If you are curious, there is only one reason why. This is because, in the past, your building’s façade size had something to do with the taxes that you pay. The wider your building’s façade is, the larger your tax.
Now that I mentioned it, I’m pretty sure you’re curious how they look. And to tell you the truth, they’re narrower than the usual you would usually find in the States.
And that was all because of the tax.
It wasn’t really evading taxes at the time. The Dutch of the past were practical and found ways to save up.
These days, Amsterdam is a city known to be perfect for walking and cycling.
It’s a quaint city with all the canals and tourist sites.
And adding to the aesthetics of the canals, gardens, and tourist sites are their houses.
Yes, they are narrower. Yes, the houses are a little bit skewed. They even tilt in many directions.
But these characteristics add to the unique beauty of the city.
If you think about it, it appears that the houses in Amsterdam do not seem to follow any rule of architecture. And it’s incredible!
The moment you take a look at these houses, you’d always wonder. How can they still remain standing?
Amsterdam is a city where you will see houses leaning in all sorts of directions. But people live there. And nobody can tell them otherwise.
If you ask me, it’s these skewed and narrow houses that add to the charm of Amsterdam.
The Reason for the Skewed Houses
The buildings in Amsterdam are narrow and tall. Each house has large and beautiful windows.
If you go back to why houses were this way, it’s not for aesthetic purposes. The houses looked this way for a lot of architectural reasons.
The reason for the many windows is that it makes the building lighter.
The more windows there are, the lighter the building is.
Buildings in Amsterdam have to be lighter. This is because the city itself has significant problems when it comes to how sturdy its foundations are.
Older buildings in the city have wooden poles. And over the years, these poles have lost their strength.
And with the conditions of the soil in Amsterdam, it would be safe to say that the houses started to sink.
Also, Amsterdam has houses attached to each other.
When you look at all of them, it would appear as if the houses support each other. Sort of like each house looks after another house. They tend to keep their balance together.
Try to take a look at detached houses in the city. These are those without any support from another building.
These detached houses tend to lean more than the others.
Why do Amsterdam houses lean forward?
Houses in Amsterdam lean for various reasons. First, it keeps the house protected from rain and snow. It also makes it easier to bring goods up to the upper floors. Third, it makes the house bigger. And finally, I think you wouldn’t mind if I tell you – it looks pretty!
When you visit Amsterdam, you would quickly notice that the houses tend to lean forward.
Why is that so?
Houses in Amsterdam tend to lean forward for a lot of reasons. This is something they required in the past. The houses that lean are no accident.
Before the 19th century, it was part of building regulations that houses have to lean forward. In fact, they even specified how much the house should lean.
Why was it required to have houses lean forward?
Here are the reasons.
In the past, houses were all made of wood.
Houses of this era also have upper floors that are larger compared to the floor below. Such a building technique is what they call jettying.
In the past, the materials were not as waterproof as the materials we have nowadays.
Rain, snow, and wind can easily ruin the roofs and walls of these houses.
Because the house is leaning forward, the house is very well protected from the elements. No amount of rain or snow can drip through the walls and destroy everything.
A Larger House
A leaning house brings with it more space.
The construction of the house provides for more space on the upper floors. Because of this, the house does not take up too much space on the street.
During medieval times, the streets were narrow.
It would have been impractical to build houses with bigger lower floors. A design like this would cramp the streets and make it narrower than it already was.
Easier to Hoist Things Up
Houses in Amsterdam were not just for residence.
In the past, houses were also for people to keep and store goods.
Because the city was a trading port in the past, a leaning house was more practical for its residents at the time.
Residents trade a lot of items. And because they trade, they sometimes have to keep their goods inside the house. Most of the time, they make the upper floors the area where they store the goods.
Bringing these goods up to the upper floors was always tricky. As you can remember, the houses were narrow. Carrying boxes of goods up the stairs was impossible.
But hoisting them up using a rope and a hook makes it easier for everyone. And this is where the leaning house comes in handy.
Because the houses were leaning, it was easier for people to hoist the goods up.
Now, imagine if the house stands straight. While hoisting the goods up, these boxes would bump into walls and even break windows.
With a leaning house, goods hitting the walls and windows would not be possible.
It Looks Pretty
This may sound silly. But if you look at all these leaning houses, they all look beautiful.
The leaning houses are unique. And these houses give Amsterdam a character of its own.
If you ask me, I’d never change a thing.
They all look beautiful as they are.
Why do Amsterdam houses have hooks?
If you look closely at Amsterdam houses, you would see hooks at the top. With a wheel, a hook, and a rope, they make it easier to pull goods up. This is a technique from medieval times. And it still works until now.
Moving things in Amsterdam is the same as everywhere else.
There is the movement of boxes, furniture, and all the other stuff.
But what makes it different in this city is when the hooks come into action.
These hooks make it easier for residents to move bigger things up and down most buildings.
Houses in Amsterdam have hooks at the top.
A rope, a wheel, and a hook make it easier for the residents to move things up the house.
As discussed in the previous section, you know this is more practical than carrying boxes up the stairs.
Here’s a quick look at the hooks and how they came about.
The Hooks: A Short History Lesson
Most building designs in Amsterdam have their influences from the medieval ages.
During those years, only the rich can afford to construct larger buildings. They also tend to build around the canal.
At that time, the rich were mostly traders and businessmen. The canals played a role in how they conducted their businesses.
As I mentioned earlier, the upper floors of houses were also used to store goods.
But in terms of storing, why do they have to store it on the upper floors?
Amsterdam has a great enemy. It is the constantly rising water levels.
For the businessmen to keep the goods dry and in good condition, they had to store them on the upper floors.
But because the houses were narrow, carrying the goods up by hand was impractical. It was a difficult feat, especially if we are talking of bringing things up the narrow stairs.
This is where the rope and the pulley came into the picture.
Goods like boxes, furniture, and instruments were then hoisted up. It was more accessible with the use of the rope and the pulley. Even food goes up the house through this method.
Each of these houses has its own hooks at the top portion of the house.
With the hook, a rope, and a pulley, moving things up was easier for everyone. And even now, it is still making things easier for the residents.
Is Amsterdam sinking?
The Netherlands was mostly built on bodies of water. Because of many factors, most parts of the country began sinking. This includes Amsterdam. The city sinks an average of 8 millimeters every year.
The country used to be mostly soft peatland.
There were areas above sea level and were habitable at the time. But higher and habitable areas were few.
It was around 500 B.C. when the residents started to construct artificial hills. These were for the population to inhabit. This made settlement in more areas a little bit more permanent.
Aside from the artificial hills, there was a lot of Dutch engineering and ingenuity at play.
We know these days that they built the Netherlands mostly on water.
Parts of the sea were, at the time, reclaimed. These resulted in cities and neighborhoods built on artificial land. The artificial land was mainly built on top of bodies of water.
But now, scientists see that most parts of the country are sinking.
The sinking is primarily because of many factors.
But the main factor that causes Amsterdam and some areas to sink is the movement of the plates. This is a natural occurrence, and this happens in most places.
But aside from the plate movements, there are also other reasons.
Human activity can also be one of the main factors why Amsterdam is sinking faster than expected.
Aside from that, there is the added weight of the construction of buildings.
There are also roads constructed. And they add more weight to the reclaimed land.
Amsterdam and Climate Change
Most studies show that Amsterdam will be underwater in about 80 years or so.
The rising sea levels caused by climate change are a big threat. It can wipe major cities from the face of the earth in a few decades.
Climate change caused the Antarctic sheet to melt.
The uncontrolled melting results in the water levels rising.
As you already know, the Netherlands is mostly built on top of bodies of water. While canals and walls may have kept the water at bay, they cannot do so for the years to come.
The melting of the Antarctic sheets added a huge amount of water to the oceans. This increases the average sea level. This puts low-lying countries at risk of too much flooding.
The rise, after many decades, would most likely amount to about 9 meters. Such a rise in water levels would submerge most of the homes in Amsterdam by the year 2100.
Most governments ensure that temperatures do not go beyond the 2 degrees recommended. This is to take control of the negative impact of climate change.
This is a goal most governments work for. Despite this, the earth is continuously seeing the adverse effects of climate change.
Weather catastrophes are becoming more violent. The northern and southern tips of the earth are melting fast. The water levels are rising higher than expected.
Having said such, it will not be a wonder that most cities will be underwater in a few decades.
Unfortunately, Amsterdam is one of them.
Unless, of course, the Dutch show their engineering genius once again.
Because if they were able to do it in the past, they could perhaps do it again in the future.
The Dutch, I am sure, will not give up Amsterdam and most of the Netherlands without putting up a good fight.
The narrow houses in Amsterdam had a different reason in the past. And it was practical at the time.
Never did they know that such practicality could become Amsterdam’s unique character today.