Amsterdam is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Its origins lie in the 12th century when fishermen living along the banks of the River Amstel built a bridge across the waterway near the IJ, then a large saltwater inlet. Most of the city’s territory is below sea level and therefore it lies on land that has been reclaimed from the water.
Amsterdam is all about practical urban planning, amazing cycling infrastructure, tulip-lined canal bridges, and old merchant houses that tilt at impossible angles. I visited Amsterdam again last year and discovered some new places.
This iconic building by MVRDV – the first housing complex realized by the firm – fulfills 100 living units for elderly people and was completed in 1997. Its very powerful image is the result of urban policy: the architects couldn't place all the flats in a linear building, because there was a height restriction. Thus the overhang volumes: all the apartments that couldn't fit into the linear volume were hung on the northern side, with an east-west orientation.
2. NEMO Science Museum / Renzo Piano
Surrounded by water, this science and technology museum has a ship-like form and pre-oxidized copper-clad façades, referencing the surrounding harbor areas. The museum has its origins in 1923 but its present building dates to 1997. A pedestrian ramp leads up onto the building’s sloping roof that serves as a public piazza for visitors and as a social focus for the neighborhood. Don't miss the beautiful skyline views from its rooftop.
This art gallery completed in 2003 is a beautifully compact, sculptural structure arranged in three levels. The building is covered in coated aluminum that flows from bottom to roof and over, all around the building on opposite sides. A special feature is the sculptural glass facade at the main entrance.
P.C. Hooftstraat, a delightful little street dating mostly to the 19th century, is nowadays known for its high-end flagship stores. In 2016, MVRDV was appointed to revamp this brick block and the result couldn’t be more thoughtful. Using hundreds of specially-engineered glass bricks and a transparent high-strength sealant, the façade was made more permeable whilst still mimicking the original building design and evoking the vernacular aspects of the area. When Hermès moved in earlier in 2019, they further enhanced the space by removing a blank wall from behind the upper half of the facade (making the interior entirely visible from the outside) and adding special brand culture touches (like the delicate leather handrails of the main staircase)
Strawinskylaan bicycle parking, completed in 2018, is located opposite Amsterdam Zuid railway station. With a capacity of 3,750 spaces, it became the largest underground bike parking in the Dutch capital. Providing good parking facilities for bikes is an important part of the municipal strategy to guarantee sustainable and comfortable access to the public transport node while increasing the quality of the public space.
This magnificent building by Pierre Cuypers has been dedicated to arts and history since its completion in 1885. The newest addition – the Asian pavilion – was designed by Cruz y Ortiz and opened in 2013. The museum’s two inner courtyards have now been opened up, with the removal of galleries that were added in the 1950s and 1960s. A two-part atrium has been created by sinking the floor of the two courtyards below ground level and connecting them via an underground zone beneath the original passageway through the building. Notable paintings include The Milkmaid (1657) by Vermeer.
The existing building of the Stedelijk Museum was created in 1895 by the municipal architect A.W. Weismann. It is celebrated for its majestic staircase, grand rooms, and natural lighting, which were the base points for the 2012 redesign by Benthem Crouwel Architects. The contrast of the new building versus the old building is obvious from the outside but inside the museum, you hardly notice strolling from the new building into the old. The museum's collection includes modern art, contemporary art, and design.
8. Silodam / MVRDV
This new housing building is located next to two former grain warehouses (silos) that have been converted into housing. The 157 flats, business units, and public spaces in the Housing Silo are compressed within a 10 story high and 20 meters deep urban envelope. The apartments, rented and owned in different sizes, are stacked legibly on the façade as each of them is expressed differently. Tours are available from 3€ sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org 2 weeks in advance.
Both the Eye Film Institute’s concept and urban implementation are based on an overlay of two creative disciplines: reality and fiction, illusion and real experience. The building concept becomes the storyboard, architecture, and scenography. By delivering a dynamic interplay, the building’s assigned role oscillates between acting as the urban protagonist and as a dramaturgical element.
10. Centraal Station / Benthem Crouwel Architects
This highly debated project (22 years of politics back and forth), was finally completed in 2018. Amsterdam's new metro link connects the north to the south with a system of seven metro stations: two stations above ground and five stations underground, along a route that is almost 10 Km long. The task of engineering an underground metro 25 meters deep in the soggy soil of historic Amsterdam, built on long wooden stilts around 1300, was not an easy one.
Science Park Amsterdam is the new home for the Liberal Arts and Sciences program at the Amsterdam University College, a joint institute of the University of Amsterdam and VU University Amsterdam. Mecanoo designed Amsterdam University College as an inspiring home for a community of international students and their professors. It is an inviting building with a spacious loft on top. A staircase winds through the voids, symbolizing a sense of community for its users.
12. PVH Campus Houthavens Amsterdam / MVSA Architects
PVH Campus was built in 2018 as the European Headquarters for Calvin Klein & Tommy Hilfiger’s parent company, PVH. The complex is composed of three very different buildings. Given their different focuses and functions, the architects’ approach stresses unity in diversity, with three overlapping water-related concepts. The European HQ Calvin Klein & Tommy Hilfiger building, the first to be completed, has the sleek lines and shiny finishes of a sailing ship. The middle, low-rise building, the social hub of the campus, has a stratified yet flowing form inspired by a waterfall. The third, a high-rise office complex, has a graphic façade that reflects the movement of waves.
The Conservatorium is set within a former music conservatory, a century-old building, designed by Dutch architect Daniel Knuttel. Lissoni embraced the hotel’s limitations, creatively crafting 129 guest rooms within the original footprint and giving each a unique layout. Much of the furniture is by Lissoni himself, mixed with masters of design pieces and objects trouvés. A sculptural steel staircase links the lobby with the rest of the hotel, creating a catwalk-like transition.
14. The Whale / de Architekten Cie.
The Whale is one of three big ‘meteorites’ which have landed in-between the low-rise row houses on the Islands of Borneo and Sporenburg. The traditional closed block has been transformed by lifting the two, so the public space flows through underneath. Thanks to its sculptural shape, this building by Frits van Dongen is a real landmark. The program includes 194 flats, offices, and retail space and inside the block, there is a private garden designed by West 8.
This exciting public structure by MVRDV was built in 2015 as an extension to the tennis club, which currently has 10 clay courts and a tennis school. The aim of the club is to be as accessible as possible, meaning that it is accessible to the general public, free of charge, and open 365 days a year. It's not a private club, but more of a meeting place for young and old, where you can grab a coffee and a healthy snack, meet with friends, or even just check your emails.
16. The Manor Hotel / A.L. van Gendt
The Manor Hotel, originally built in 1891 as the most modern hospital in the country, is known for its red and white brise-soleils and bold interiors. The former hospital was an innovative initiative by Doctor Anton Berns and his wife Woltera van Rees who did the impossible to build a safe space full of light and comfortable spaces for their patients. Football legend Johan Cruyff was born there and prince Bernard had an entire wing reserved for him after a car accident in 1937. In 2011, the premises were transformed into a hip hotel with luxury rooms a trendy lounge, and an authentic Italian restaurant.
17. Borneo + Sporenburg Bridges / West 8
The three bridges of Borneo and Sporenburg by West 8 play an essential role in creating a unique atmosphere in the harbor-residential area. Two of the bridges – one on the Westside and the other on the East side – span the 93-meter wide water of the Railroad basin and connect the islands of Borneo and Sporenburg. Don't miss the beautiful houses around the area such as Six Dwellings in Borneo by Enric Miralles.
Lex van Delden Bridge, built in 2013, not only connects the Boelelaan with the Gershwinplein but more over the city center to the suburbs. The bridge allows traffic to cross and at the same time, it offers a stopping place, where one can comfortably sit down and have a good look around. Tables, chairs, and residents can enjoy a glass of wine in the evening sun.
‘Summertime’, built in 2016, consists of two pixelated residential towers. By stacking and shifting apartments as three-dimensional ‘Pixels’ SeARCH was able to maximize views, sunlight, and privacy within a high-density urban environment. This clever offsetting of spaces stretches the relative distance between apartments, offers a large variety of outdoor space, and increases the individual readability of the apartments. All while staying within the constraints of the urban plan.
Cuyperspassage is the name of the new tunnel at Amsterdam Central Station that connects the city and the waters of the IJ river. Since the end of 2015 it has been used by large numbers of cyclists, some 15,000 daily, and pedestrians 24 hours a day. This ‘slow traffic corridor’ was exactly what many users of the city felt was lacking. What once was by necessity a left or right turn is now, at long last, straight ahead. The tunnel is clad on one side by nearly 80,000 Delft Blue tiles: a true Dutch spectacle at a central spot in Amsterdam.
iPabo University of Applied Sciences in Amsterdam trains students to become teachers in primary education. Mecanoo designed the comprehensive building overhaul and extension needed for the substantial increase of students expected in the coming years. The existing iPabo building’s core dates from the 1960s. Mecanoo worked to realize inspirational, transparent environments where there is space to meet in a building that is part renovation and part new build.
This renovated building is the former federal warehouse of medical supplies. In 1997 it was turned into a new office space. The main structure is a four-story brick “U” merging internally with a new ‘sponge’ pavilion on the canal. While the exterior expression is one of the complementary contrasts (existing brick adjacent to new perforated copper), the interior strategy is one fusion.
Benthem Crouwel Architects transformed an empty, neglected office building into a high-quality, inspiring, and sustainable office where all employees of the Goede Doelen Loterijen (Dutch Charity Lotteries) can work together. The building received a BREEAM rating ‘Outstanding’- making it the most sustainable renovated property in the Netherlands. Besides offices, the building houses a public restaurant, an auditorium, and a TV studio.
The main hotel for the RAI Amsterdam convention and exhibition center, the scheme offers 650 hotel rooms across 25 floors. Formed of three shifting triangular volumes, the scheme draws from a triangular advertising column on the Europaplein that once stood prominently on the site. The project has been 15-years in the making, as a larger 800-room proposal was once rejected by the city a few years back.
Amsterdam's Exhibition and Convention Centre has a new, multifunctional car park. The building is 30 meters high and its eight floors offer parking space for about 1.000 cars. What makes the building remarkable is the fact that the first floor is not just for parking cars, but can also be used as a flexible space for conventions and exhibitions. When the RAI does not need a car park, the building can function as a public parking space.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on February 11, 2020.