Friday, July 17, 2015

Of gabled fame

Amsterdam has been called a city of 'well-mannered' architechture because its charm lies in intimate details rather than in grand effects.
The gabled houses on the Canal Ring are Amsterdam's most picture-perfect historic feature. The infinite array of gables on the city houses dominates the city's postcard-perfect image and is a carefully preserved asset.

From the 15th century onwards, planning laws, plot sizes and the instability of the topsoil dictated that facades were largely uniform in size and built of light weight brick and sandstone, with large windows to reduce the weight. The lack of firm land meant that Amsterdam houses were built on narrow, deep plots, and one of the only ways to make a property distinctive was at the top, with a decorative gable.
Canal house owners stamped their own individuality on the buildings, mainly through the use of decorative gables and cornices, ornate door-cases and varying window shapes.
One thing all canal houses have in common is the hook in the gable, to which a pulley wheel and rope can be attached. This handy manual elevator system was developed from medieval shipping techniques; it's pretty impossible to move bulky goods up and down the precariously steep staircases found inside most Amsterdam houses (trust me when I say that one person could barely fit through those narrow tight stair alleys). Boxes, pianos, couches, or whatever are winched up using the rope and pulley, and hauled in through exceptionally wide removable windows. On my walk through different neighborhoods, I kept my eyes peeled to catch a few Dutch movers in action.

The old center was formed by rings of canals with unique mostly 17th century residences of wealthy merchants, financiers, craftsmen, doctors, lawyers, politicians and artists. Merchant’s houses had their storage in attics and cellars. Sometimes the lift was installed in the middle of the house plan, to transport the goods between floors. The office of the merchant was usually on the ground floor. Like in Venice the canals were the main way of transporting the goods.

Interesting tit-bit - most of the canal houses lean a tad forward to prevent loads crashing into facades!

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