Why The Houses Look Down Into the Grachten …

Posted by Axel Thorer on 4. Juni 2018

Here I explain an oddity in Amsterdam (The Netherlands)

See, how they are leaning forward?

Amsterdam 2

... and that's the boom for the furniture

WHEN I VISITED THE FABULOUS FLUTIST FRANS BRÜGGEN in his many century old palais in the center of Amsterdam, I wondered why all the historical houses in the centre are leaning forward! The top of their facades were often over-hanging by ca. 45°, compared with the groundfloor! Was it a tribute to old age? Or is it due to the shaky ground with all that water and mud? Some house bow in a way, that the owners or architects had to implant iron clamps to keep the front from falling over. Then I discovered the reason: Land was so precious in Amsterdam and along the Grachten (= channels), most houses could only be just a few yards wide and therefore have four floors as a minimum.  Doors and especially staircases are traditionally very narrow. To move large pieces of furniture into the houses was/is almost impossible. Therefore they all have an in-built gallows or boom at a high point of the facade – to pull up things which can not be transported through the doors and staircases! And if the facades would be straight, in a 90° angle, the loads will bump against the front wall, causing damage to both. With the ropes being in free fall, because of the 45° facade, any object, even a Grand Piano, can be lifted to any desired opening. The bowing faces of Amsterdam’ old houses are no optical illusion but a clever trick, born out of necessity …

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