Imagine sailing down a beautiful canal at sunset. Dense trees lining the canal, throw a subtle shadow over the cafés below. Street Lamps illuminate the striking Dutch houses towering both sides of the canal, adding to the prosperity and richness of the city. You cross the perfectly curved arches of the old bridges while feasting on gourmet food and wine. That is the image of Amsterdam. A beautiful city, which showcases the exquisiteness of culture in its architecture.

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Amsterdam_© Massimo Catarinella

Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands and has a population of nearly 800,000. It is a very famous tourist spot, with an inflow of almost 1.2 billion people yearly. It was a place that thrived under the freedom of Dutch merchants who brought in diverse trading from all over the world.

Amsterdam has an oceanic climate with a strong influence from the North Sea. Since the Netherlands is primarily a flat land, there is frequently a problem with managing sea levels across the country, resulting in Amsterdam being nearly 2-4 metres below sea level. This causes a huge inflow and flooding in the interiors of the city. To stop this, the city was dammed over the Amstel River and the community, which resided across, started referring to it as the Amstel dam, further fine-tuned into present-day Amsterdam.

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Amsterdam_©Jorge Royan/

City Planning

Amsterdam developed as a fishing village in the 12th century. However, with the introduction of hundreds of canals in the capital over time and under the reigning influence of Dutch merchants, the city developed as the “Venice of the North.” The Dutch radially developed the city with canals, which were dug out by hand and took nearly 30 years to form. 

The main purpose of inducing these canals was to improve trade and defence systems. The Dutch are known to have developed this city very dearly to open up a clear seaway to the interiors of Europe. They introduced thousands of wooden pillars made out of Oakwood from the dark forest of Germany which are practically the foundation of the majority of the buildings in the city today and cater to the swampy soil of the city. 

Another interesting factor to notice about Amsterdam’s planning is how, even over time, there are rarely any major arterial roads in the district. Even the ones which generate from the other side of the river, kind of frizzle away upon crossing the river and entering downtown. It’s a wonderful example of how it is not necessary to introduce and overlap major arteries within the city for it to function. It’s a blessing in disguise as lesser traffic promotes a better lifestyle and supports life on bicycles. 

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A 1538 hand painted plan of Amsterdam_© Cornelis Anthonisz

The Dutch Houses

The world-famous, beautiful and extremely picturesque Dutch houses are the pride of Amsterdam. Though built as a necessary residence to many merchants and warehouse workers, these houses are no less than wonderful architectural marvels. In the early years, Amsterdam used to have extremely high costs of land, which were dependent on the length of the plots. 

To address the issue of accommodation and cost, the Dutch-designed houses were narrow and as tall as four to five stories. These houses were designed to have museums and shops on the ground floor, residential quarters on the middle floors and the warehouse on the upper floors. All of these houses were ornamented with beautiful gables varying in shape ranging from the stepped gable, neck, bell and triangle-shaped gables etc.

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The Dutch houses_©

A very intriguing example inspired by these Dutch houses and their beautiful facades is the Inntel hotel of the Zaandam region in Amsterdam. Designed by the WAM Architects, this hotel is an ode to the green Dutch houses in the vicinity. They showcase a beautiful weave of colours and shapes of gables.

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The Inntel hotel_© Roel Backeart
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The Inntel hotel_© Roel Backeart

The Culture And Heritage

Amsterdam has always been known for its rich past and the architecture that came along with it. One such example is the Oude Kerk. This was a church laid in the 1300s and is considered the oldest living structure in Amsterdam. This is a beautiful building, which is a representation of the typical gothic style of architecture, with wooden ribbed vaults and stained glass windows.

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The Oude Kerk_©

What we observe from the architectural background of the city is how; multiple styles of architecture have flourished across the city, which is quite evident, given that it was a global trading hub. Dutch renaissance, gothic, expressionist, brutalist, baroque are some examples of architectural styles, which prevailed in Amsterdam. Another example of the historic architecture in Amsterdam is the Rijksmuseum. This beautiful building designed by Pierre Cuypers in 1885 is the house of many famous works of art by Rembrandt, Johannes Vermeer, etc. 

These commendable pieces were a great example of the broad-minded approach towards life that is prevalent amongst the people of Amsterdam even today.

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The Rijksmuseum_© Diego Delso

Moving forward, we notice a peculiarity of buildings representing multiple forms of architecture at once. Pathe Tuschinski, an Amsterdam theatre that represents Jugendstil, Amsterdam School Expressionism, Art Deco, and Art Nouveau, is a prime example of this. This theatre showcases the brilliance of design with beautiful ceramic sculptures adorning the façade, multiple bay windows, along with the grandeur of a typical theatre.

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Pathe Tuschinski_©Frank workum
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Pathe Tuschinski_©Frank workum

Development And Modernism

With time, the city has managed to befriend many new styles of design and planning while maintaining its heritage with the utmost dignity. The city has developed its plan by redeveloping old structures into new modern mixed-use buildings, defining cycling lanes, turning the gritty industrial ports into modern, livable districts, etc. Amsterdam has started adapting to the modern styles of architecture, which encompass the essence of the future. 

NEMO science centre is one such landmark, which is like a towering wave near the river. Renzo Piano designed it in 1997. It is indeed the perfect example of the transition from the historical core to the panoramic harbour in the city.

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NEMO_© velvet/

 Another such example is the EYE film museum in Amsterdam by Delugan Meissl, which is a representation of space and momentum in architecture. It holds multiple dialogues in terms of spatial interpretation as a transition between history and modernity as well as an objectification of the art of filmmaking. 

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The EYE Film museum_© Iwan Baan
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EYE Plan_© Delugan Meissl Assoicated

Scope For The Future

Amsterdam is in a time when it’s seeing an industrial boom. This, in turn, will allow Amsterdam to develop as a virtuous buffet of contemporary buildings and advanced urban infrastructure. This is a part of the structural vision of Amsterdam development plan 2040. The city is evolving in response to global living standards, as evidenced by The Valley project by MVRDV, a mixed-use development, the Amsterdam twin towers, HAUT on the Amstel, and other future projections.

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The Valley_© MVRDV

Amsterdam is a city, which is noble and broad-minded. The people here believe in things that might even be considered unsavoury by many. But one thing, which Amsterdam can be guaranteed, is the brilliance and richness of its architecture which is not only conserved dialogue of its past but also a promise for an even better future.


  1. Hegazy, M., 2016. Contemporary Iconic Architecture in Amsterdam: Bilbao Effect hunting the City?. 1st ed. [ebook] Osaka. Available at: file://localhost/<https/> %5BAccessed 20 August 2021%5D
  2. 2021. Amsterdam – Wikipedia. [online] Available at: file://localhost/<https/ – Cityscape_and_architecture>

[Accessed 20 August 2021].

  1. Rick Steves’ Europe: Amsterdam. 2015.Directed by R. Steves.
  2. UNESCO World Heritage SItes, n.d. The Canal Area of Amsterdam (Netherlands). Amsterdam.

Ayushi is an architect with a sensitivity towards global architecture and its cultural importance. She is also an exemplary artist which in turn helps her in capturing the essence of creative and colourful endeavours across the world.A keen interest in writing, researching and curating has led her to venture into the field of Architectural Journalism.