Het Schip (The Ship) is originally a social housing project in Spaarndammerbuurt, West of Central Station, meant to accomodate workers who had moved to Amsterdam at the beginning of the 20th century. As the name suggests, it has – to a certain extent – the shape of a ship.
It`s interesting to know that the Netherlands introduced the Housing Act in 1901, imposing stringent requirements for the accommodation of workers. The housing associations were given the responsibility for most building projects and the appointed architects were interested in providing the workers with not just adequate housing, but with something attractive and inspiring.
Michel de Klerk, who had been already involved in designing the first building of Amsterdamse School (the Scheepvaarthuis), was asked to design a series of housing blocks to the West of the city in Spaarndammerplantsoen. De Klerk took the basics from the Scheepvaarthuis experience (creative brickwork, wrought iron accents, expressionist sculpting of stone) and applied them to workers’ appartment blocks.
The result is something extremely organic and playful and the sea element is again very visible – undulating facades, spiralling balconies, curving walkways and an amusing outgrowth known as “the cigar”.
Hildo Krop, the sculptor who had previously worked with de Clerk at the Scheepvaarthuis, was also employed for Het Schip to add some symbolic flourishes, such as storks carved locally into the brickwork or an archer (symbolizing the hunting of knowledge) above the door of a school.
De Klerk decided that there was no reason why windows had to be square, so we see fishtail windows and arrow-shaped windows, all made from lots of tiny panes.
The area in which Het Schip was built had been previously divided between various fractions of the Dutch society. There were Catholic blocks, Protestant blocks and Socialist blocks. De Klerk’s development was for the Socialists. The impressive (and functionless) red brick tower was built from the architect`s desire to create an equivalent of a church spire for this particular social category of inhabitants.
At the sharp end of the trianguar block (the prow of the ship), de Klerk built a post office. This was preserved in its original form and it`s now the Museum Het Schip. The original phone booth, which allowed people to speak to friends and relatives in far away places, is still there.