Located in the former harbor of Amsterdam, at the corner of Prins Hendrikkade with Binnenkant, the Scheepvaarthuis (Shipping House) is one of the city`s best-known monuments, a masterpiece of the Amsterdamse School architecture.
Shortly after Johan van der Mey, one of the leaders of the movement, had been appointed the city’s first “aesthetic advisor” in 1911 (Van der Mey was barely in his thirties), he was commissioned to design the Scheepvaarthuis, a building that would serve as the head office for the city’s six largest shipping companies. The project was of great significance, financed by the wealthy shipping companies of the time, so Van der Mey recruited Michel de Klerk and Piet Kramer (his colleague architects, even younger than him) to collaborate on the design. The sculptor Hildo Krop was appointed for the symbolic (Expressionist) stone decorations.
The completed Scheepvaarthuis was a marvel, a symbol of the Netherlands’ rich sea-faring history, and to this day is considered one of the most stunning, representative and among the first examples of Amsterdamse School design. It could be described, in a few words, as a glorious celebration of the sea, a tribute to the history of shipping in the Netherlands.
In case you approach it from the Kromme Waal, you will notice that the bridge you need to cross is somehow different from the other bridges in Amsterdam. Also designed by van der Mey, the bridge carries the same architectural style and looks as imposing as the Scheepvaarthuis. Even the lamps on the bridge are attentively decorated with iron shaped figures, to complete the picture.
The overall effect is that of preparation of the eye for what it is to encounter right after crossing this bridge: the Scheepvaarthuis building itself!
The impressive main entrance towers upwards, just like the prow of a ship and is decorated with symbolic sculptures venerating all four oceans sailed by the Dutch traders during the Golden Age.
The effect is amazing and it persists as you discover the other flanks of the building, where stylized busts of the great Dutch seafarers and their contemporaries are to be seen emerging from the façade. Beside these statues, there are also carvings and wrought ironwork representing tridents, ropes, anchors, fish, seahorses, dolphins, shells and, of course, waves.
The Scheepvaarthuis, declared a national monument, served different functions along its history. The last of the six shipping companies left the building in 1981. After this, it became the head office of the Municipal Transportation Company Amsterdam (GVB). The building was eventually turned into a 5 star hotel in 2007 – The Grand Hotel Amrath – and it serves this function ever since.
The heritage of the monument has been completely preserved during the conversion (former offices transformed into hotel rooms, the original directors’ elevators preserved intact etc.) and the most impressive feature of the interior is the magnificent stairwell with its stained glass roof on which the Americas are depicted on one side, Europe, Asia and Africa on the other, together with the navigational star signs and constellations – a real tribute to the Golden Age voyages of discovery and trade.
The Scheepvaarthuis is a completely original piece of Expressionist architecture and is definitely worth a visit.