During the Saturday afternoon of my short visit to Amsterdam I took the tram to the south part of the De Pijp area of the city. I wanted to take a look at the Amsterdam School buildings that had been constructed in the area from 1917 as part of town planner Hendrik Petrus Berlage’s Plan Zuid to provide housing for the city’s workers who were living in sub-standard accommodation (i.e. slums). This had become feasible due to the enactment of a special law (Woningwet, 1901) that made provided finance for the municipalities and the housing cooperatives to build dwellings for workers.
I particularly wanted to visit De Dageraad (‘The Dawn’) complex which had been built for the socialist housing association of the same name. It had been designed by Piet Kramer and Michel de Klerk two of the leading architects of the “Amsterdam School” and it’s a particularly impressive example of this style of architecture. Between them, the two men designed residential and commercial buildings and the complex also included two parks, and a library.
The Amsterdam style is characterised by by buildings constructed of brick with decorative elements, and there are plenty of those at De Dageraad – curves, steps and towers, and abstract forms dominate. There hardly seems to be a square corner on the blocks of apartments. These features added to the cost of the project and the architects were criticised by conservative elements who didn’t think workers needed to live in “fancy” buildings. But de Klerk and Kramer were Socialists who believed workers had a right to live in “palaces” which would inspire them and where they could build a better life – a similar philosophy to the Arts and Crafts Movement in the UK. The three- and four-room units provided a considerable improvement in living standards for their tenants. The decorative elements also provided work for unemployed craftsmen and stonemasons.
There’s a Visitors’ Centre in the complex which is open at weekends. I signed up for the next guided tour. it transpired I was the only one for that time slot, so I got a personal tour of the complex!
“Ladder style” windows dominate
Curved projections on the roof line
Here roof tiles are used for a decorative, rather than functional, purpose. Different colours of brickwork are used to create a decorative effect and the dark bricks are laid at vertically rather than horizontally.
Deep recesses in the roof and tall chmineys
A curved corner tower
More decorative use of roof tiles, balconies and a rounded corner tower
An interesting stairwell tower
Curved corners wrap around the entrance
Here we can see how different coloured bricks are used to create a design element
Brickwork laid to create a decorative feature
A rooster representing the Dawn
A monument to Socialist Alderman Floor Wibaut (1859-1936), who was the driving force behind this large-scale public housing project in the Amsterdam School architectural style.
A doorway. Notice the distinctive font used for the house numbers
An associated complex the Coöperatiehof (Cooperation court) is an ensemble of three blocks of workers’ houses and a library. This might not seem particularly revolutionary to us but at the beginning of the 20th Century in Amsterdam workers did not have easy access to books and there were few libraries.
As the Dagaraad was a Socialist housing Co-operative the library was meant to provide an alternative to the church on a Sunday. Workers were encourage to visit and choose and read their own books rather than go to church and have the bible foisted on them. The building was even provided with a bell tower which symbolises the intellectual elevation of the worker
On the back wall of the library there’s a monument to J.W.C. Tellegen (1859-1921), who was Director of Municipal Housing and Building Control from 1901 to 1915 and Mayor of Amsterdam from 1915 to 1921.