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Europe Part One: Amsterdam

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By Jamie Daugaard
Big Sky Weekly Contributor

On a recent trip to Europe, I visited the
Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg
and Italy. In this article, I’d like to discuss
the architecture and building styles
I saw in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands.
My next article will be on the Rheinland
of Germany.

Twenty-five percent of the Netherlands
is below sea level, and it uses dikes and
dams to keep the Atlantic from inundating
sections of the country. Water is
integral to the urban setting of Amsterdam.
Rings of arterial canals flow
through all parts of the old centre and
provide a major mode of transportation.
Historically, the canals were designed
as a way to transport goods. Today,
many different types of boats use
them, connecting pedestrian centers,
plazas, churches and civic buildings.
I thought this created an interesting
and vibrant urban fabric. The boats
moved slowly between buildings,
and people walked along walkways
and plazas.
A number of people rode bicycles—
children, adults, and mothers with baby
seats on the front and back of bicycles.
Dedicated bicycle lanes were prevalent,
and I found I had to be careful crossing
roads, looking out for both vehicles and
bicycles. The constant ringing of bicycle
bells signaling, “watch out,” added an
acoustic to the city.
As an architect, I watch how people
interact with spaces—both interior and
exterior—and where they gravitate.
I also like to look at the structure and
details of a building, and in Amsterdam
there was a lot to see.
Amsterdam’s architecture is composed
of many styles. Its oldest standing
church was built in the 13th century
in the medieval style. Renaissance
architecture took hold during the
Dutch Golden Age, which lasted from
the 16th to the 18th century, and is
where a number of the architecture in
the old centre of Amsterdam originates.
In this intriguing time period, the narrow
buildings lining the canals were
constructed, designed around a tax per
linear meter of the front. Many of these
structures are now leaning significantly,
but most are still occupied. Most
were ornamented heavily with white
window frames, brick, slate and terra
cotta, creating a great mix of colors and
Amsterdam’s many brick buildings
are magnificent, with many unique
traditions of placing and integrating the
bricks into neighboring structures. The
parapet caps of these buildings were
articulated with staggered steps, soft
curves and miscellaneous adornments.
You also could tell if the original owners
were rich or poor by the width of a
building, the amount of ornamentation
on the façade, and if the main level was
elevated from the street. When a building
façade was devoid of detail except
for windows and doors, the parapet was
still articulated to give that building its
own personality among the neighboring
The Renaissance style flowed into
19th century Neo Classicism, in
which a number of the city’s large
civic buildings were built. Heavy
ornamentation clad these buildings,
with different tonal stone bands,
brightly colored brick, and large
spires and towers. Most walls were
three to four feet thick, and even
the stone was detailed, shaped to
create window frames and ginger
bread tracery on the parapet walls.
Since the buildings were usually
very tall, the rooflines were often
punctuated by dormers in a rhythmic
The diverse styles of the urban
landscape, coupled with landscaping
and the canal arteries, made this
city a great place to visit.
Jamie Daugaard, principal of Centre
Sky Architecture, received his BArch
and M-Arch from Montana
State University. Sustainability is
deeply rooted in his work, which is
mostly located in mountain regions
with offices in Denver, Colorado,
and Big Sky, Montana. If you would
like to comment on this article or
would like to learn more about
another topic, you can contact him at or (406) 995-

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