In the Spaarndammerplantsoen district of north-west Amsterdam can be found Het Schip (The Ship), a monumental public housing block of apartments. Built in the early 20th century, this expressionist building was designed by Michel de Klerk (1884-1923) and is a renowned example from the Amsterdam School of architecture.
The Museum Het Schip is housed in a former primary school and gives visitors the chance to take a guided tour around the building complex.
Het Schip was designed in 1919 (completed 1921) and contains 102 dwellings, a post office and meeting hall. The exterior of the building is unconventional to say the least with its bright orange-brown brickwork, sculptures, minarets and exuding a wave-like structure that resembles a ship.
The expressionism of the Amsterdam School style from the likes of De Klerk and Piet Kramer was in contrast to the earlier and more traditional Dutch style of Hendrik Berlage.
In 2016 the museum was moved from the post office to an expanded space at De Catamaran, a former primary school building. A permanent exhibition is located on the 1st floor whilst temporary exhibits can be found on the 2nd floor.
Note that the building complex is still in use today providing social housing to Amsterdam residents. By the way, if you want to live there you will need at least 20 years waiting-list time!
Development of Amsterdam social housing
In the late 19th century there were concerns over the state of housing and slum conditions of the poor in Amsterdam. Large families were confined to a single room without adequate sewerage nor running water. Disease and illness was rife and due to the high population density, ill health managed to affect all levels of society.
A mock up of a slum dwelling can be seen on the museum tour.
After the Housing Act (Woningwet) of 1901 it was decided to demolish the slum tenements and start building public housing offering more sanitary and pleasant living conditions for the working classes. So started construction of planned neighbourhoods around different parts of Amsterdam. These were underwritten by non-profit housing associations run by various parties of either socialists, communists, worker collectives or religious groups.
Het Schip was commissioned by the socialist housing association Eigen Haard. De Klerk’s radical building offered families spacious apartments with separate kitchen and bedrooms, flushing toilets and plenty of natural light. Ground floor apartments had a small garden and shed. In addition, the building’s post office gave the people access to telephone and postal services. This social engineering of the time gave ordinary people the chance to live in a high quality environment.
The highlight of the Het Schip tour is a visit to an apartment which has been fully restored with authentic furniture and utensils from a 1920s working-class family. The kitchen was finished in a blue colour to keep the flies away. De Klerk’s vision was of the whole family socialising together at the table in the living room.
This apartment lies underneath the building’s famous tower (which serves no real purpose other than symbolism and decoration) and visitors have the opportunity to climb up to the attic to see its internal wooden structure. The upper floor also contains an exhibition area about the Amsterdam School. In addition, there is also a small café at Oostzaanstraat 28 with a photo exhibition and a museum garden.
Although a bit out of the centre, if you have any interest in architecture or modern history it is well worth a visit to Het Schip. Standard tours last around 45 minutes. The guides are knowledgeable and speak excellent English – during the walk around the perimeter of the building they will point out many interesting features.
If tours comprise of a large group of Dutch speakers then it may not be possible for English to be spoken. However, the tour at 1500 is guaranteed in English. Other extended tours are available by appointment.
Het Schip now also has a small visitors centre at De Dagerad housing project in the south Amsterdam district of Rivierenbuurt – part of Berlage’s Plan South. Open Thu-Sun 1300-1700 with tours available. The address is Burgemeester Tellegenstraat 128. It also runs occasional tours of the Shipping House (Het Scheepvaarthuis, now the Amrath Hotel near Central Station) which is another fine example of the Amsterdam School architecture.
Note, the Museum Het Schip was closed between 13 March and 31 May 2020 due to coronavirus measures. Since reopening on 1 June it is mandatory to pre-book a ticket and timeslot in order to maintain social distancing.
Museum Het Schip Essential Info
|Opening Times||Tue-Sun 1100-1700, guided tours start on the hour between 1100-1600. Closed 27 April, 25 December and 1 January.|
|Admission Prices (2020)||€15.00 for adults, €5.00 for children 5-12. FREE entry to children 0-4, Museumkaart and Iamsterdam City Card holders.|
|Getting There||The museum is about a 25 minute walk west of central station – walk down Harlemmerstraat and Haarlemmerdijk, cross over Haarlemmerplein and enter the Westerpark and then follow the signs to the museum – which is on the north side of the railway. From Amsterdam Central bus stop (IJ-side) take either GVB buses 22 (direction: Sloterdijk) or 48 (direction: Houthavens) and get out at stop Spaarndammerstraat.|
Museum Het Schip, Oostzaanstraat 45, 1013 WG Amsterdam
T: +31(0)20 686 8595, hetschip.nl