Canal Houses

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Photo Credit: Vincenzo Parlati

These narrow townhouses were built in the 17th century along Amsterdam’s canal rings, and have become an iconic feature of the city’s inner urban center. Originally, they played an important role within commerce and their construction had a significant effect on the city’s civic layout.

In the 1600s, Amsterdam experienced a massive economic boom which led to the creation of its concentric canal belt. These new constructions were designed to encourage water traffic and allow goods to be rapidly transported around the city.

This attracted an abundance of wealthy traders to relocate to central Amsterdam, ultimately creating a demand for housing that far outweighed the supply. To solve this problem, the municipality handed out narrow plots of land to fit as many houses as possible onto the banks of the canal rings.

These houses served as both homes and workplaces for many of the merchants, and you can still see evidence of this today in the fact that many of the basement floors include large doors used as entranceways to the shop or for storage. As the residential quarters would be up a narrow staircase, many of the homes possess a large, roof-mounted hook used to lift goods and furniture into the higher floors, with many still in use today.

Additionally, due to soil conditions at the time, the homes were built on stilts. Over time, these homes have settled and sunk from their original foundation, leaving some to look as though they are wobbling. It has given rise to the nickname of these canal houses as “dancing houses” sitting at irregular heights against each other along the river.

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