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Het Schip: Amsterdam School Museum

I met an American friend for dinner a couple of nights ago and, among the vast expanse of Dutch wisdom she shared with me, she recommended a visit to Het Schip, the museum of the Amsterdam school (thought-school) of design. It was included on my iAmsterdam card and so I caught a bus there today.

Walking from the bus to the museum was enjoyable. The area was originally home to port workers and is called Spaarndammer en Zeeheldenbuurt. Today, the average income is currently slightly lower than average and there is a mix of cultures (per TIP Makelaar). I walked through planned communities of multi-family dwellings surrounding common areas, such as playground areas and courtyard space. It was a quiet early Saturday afternoon.

Neighborhood play area

I enjoyed a quiet lunch in the museum cafe which looked onto a courtyard that featured street design artifacts from the Amsterdam School including, postal boxes, garbage receptacles, lampposts, a men's urinal, and an electric transformer station.

Lamppost description

After lunch, I registered for the afternoon tour in English and set out to browse the collections in the meantime.

I learned that the Amsterdam School was in response to social issues of the early twentieth century and a housing crisis. As we would discuss in the tour, newly-arriving workers and families had little money for housing and made do in the slums with cramped quarters that created health concerns.

1901 publication describing living conditions in Amsterdam: "Hovels and Slums"

Tour guide opens the doors to a shipping container modeled to depict the size and conditions of pre-Housing Act family living quarters

The Dutch passed the national Housing Act of 1902 and provided subsidies for building quality residences with attention to air quality, potable water, fire prevention, and solid waste organization.

Architects, designers, and craftspeople took up the challenge and designed not only safe shelter, but also embraced ideals around mutual respect and mental health. They designed buildings and items that would uplift the residents with the idea: surround people with beautiful things and they will behave beautifully.

Het Schip

Het Schip was one such building. The so-called "peoples' palace" was created in a beautiful style of the era--the Amsterdam School--noted for windows wider than high, arches and parabolas, stained glass, brick wrap-arounds, carved images in brick, vertical roof tiles, "potted" boards, and wavy details.

Exterior of Het Schip: wavy lines and wide windows

In addition to buildings, furniture and personal items were also crafted in the Amsterdam School, first by individual craftsmanship and then through mass production to make them accessible to all people.

The tour guided us around the outside of Het Schip to admire its unique features.

We visited the neighborhood post office located at one end of the building and talked about the evolution of small design features meant to guide residential behavior.

Former post office in Het Schip

And then we went around to the ship-like end of the building and talked about how these apartments were still in use, but they had kept one for the museum. This working-class apartment was outfitted in furnishings of the 1920s.

The second-from-the-left door leads upstairs to an era-appropriate furnished apartment. The other doors lead to personal residences.

Cooking area in era home

After the tour I returned the permanent exhibit of artifacts to look around a bit more and play with their design templates.

Notes from Het Schip


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