Going Dutch

Dutch architecture is characterized by a variety of elements—red roofs, gables, slender spires, belfries and vanes, among others. It is an intimate, human architecture, arising out of its people's daily lives, according to www.historyofholland.com.

The geography and surroundings of Holland, which is part of the Netherlands, have influenced its architectural style, gaining inspiration from canal systems and towering windmills. The history of its people and development of its cities also were major factors in its architectural development.

During the thirteenth century, Holland's cities prospered, receiving revenue from river commerce and markets, overseas trading and other industries. Its most prosperous cities became members of the Hanseatic League, a trading alliance of northern European cities that established the long-continuing commercial relationship between Holland and England.

During the fifteenth century, dissension and war caused Holland's cities to be ejected from the Hanseatic League, but the country continued to prosper through its trade. However, when Holland's provinces came under the control of the Dukes of Burgundy, cities were heavily taxed and oppressed. By the first half of the sixteenth century, the Dutch were ruled by King Philip II of Spain, whose leadership led to persecution and violence. William the Silent led the Dutch people in a revolt, leading to the Eighty Years' War and, eventually, the founding of the Dutch Republic.

Commercial welfare increased during the seventeenth century and the Dutch gained many naval victories. However, Holland's fortunes began to decline as England's fortunes increased, and it is said Holland's greatest days came to a close in 1689, when William the III was elected to the English throne.

Throughout this history, Dutch architecture emerged and evolved. Early Dutch secular architecture reflects late Gothic style, as seen in its civic buildings. For example, the Town Hall at Middleburg boasts a stone building with detail, sculpted figures, sunk paneling, turrets and tiers of dormers.

The Dutch interpretation of Gothic architecture involved the use of bricks. Because the bricks were not as easily molded as stone, ornamental opportunities were limited. Detail had to be simplified and adapted, leading to the Dutch transitional Renaissance style as seen in its public buildings and churches.

Not much of Dutch Medieval architecture has survived; the buildings that have survived date to the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. Features include paneling, surface decoration (using brickwork), arched window heads ornamented with tracery, circular brick turrets and conical roofs, and stepped gables with pinnacles rising from the copings.

Although Gothic residential buildings may be scarce in Holland, there are many existing residential buildings constructed during the transitional period from gothic to Renaissance. Rows of narrow, high houses feature unique and picturesque gables.

The seventeenth century brought the desire to employ purer forms of Renaissance art in architecture. However, the severe classic ideas, such as uniformity and symmetry, never quite took hold.

French architecture influenced Dutch architecture during the 18th century. By 1830, architects favored the castles and cathedrals of the Gothic period, and various Neo-Gothic churches were built in Holland, featuring pointed windows with tracery, pinnacles and strong, vertical lines.

The 20th century brought modern architecture, employing steel and glass. These modern structures and the playful, quaint architecture of Holland's past have been able to co-exist seamlessly, providing a rich architectural view.

This Web exclusive information is a supplement to A Dutch design.