What We Learned from Amsterdam’s Architecture

Friday, May 30, 2014

At the foundation of great architecture lies the three Rs: research, research and research.

The world and its history contains more ideas than a lifetime of study could absorb. Whenever I can, I take my team on design tours in architectural hotspots to broaden their perspective and challenge their perception.

Our last design tour took us to Amsterdam. We visited 22 buildings in three days and – as a firm believer in power of body and mind – we cycled between each one.

Like London, Amsterdam is an eclectic mix of the old and the new. In the heart of the city are the quintessential terraces, canals and bridges, where sensitive refurbishments to listed buildings sit alongside brilliant space saving ideas in tightly packed modern homes. Then on the outskirts is a landscape where the most innovative designs are free to thrive.

In domestic design, we spotted many features that are popular requests among our clients, such as double height family spaces with stunningly lit interiors.

But in large scale developments, Amsterdam is in a different league. Dutch planning laws and their culture of contemporary design makes them far more adventurous than the UK; our planning officers could learn much from them.

As you would expect, some of greatest examples of Dutch innovation are found beside, or on top of, water. The Borneo-Sporenburg development in the Amsterdam docklands is now 25years old with each plot designed by a different architect. By giving each dwelling its own unique colour and shape the terraces feel vibrant, rather than crammed and monotonous. The gap between the peninsulas, the rooftop gardens and the natural vastness of the water create a sense of open space despite the density.

This modern twist on the Dutch architectural tradition is found throughout the waterfront in developments such as the Silodam and Hoogtij housing blocks. I wonder if London’s solutions to the housing shortage will draw on such ambition.

If you’re planning your own slice of modern, urban paradise, Amsterdam should be at the top of your list for inspiration. It’s certainly given the DGA team plenty to think about and we’re itching to put some Dutch principles into practice.

By John Dyer-Grimes