Amsterdam citizens given chance to own a piece of its golden age

Architectural treasure trove up for grabs in attempt to ‘breathe new life’ into old Amsterdam

Amsterdammers are being given the chance to own a piece of their city dating from as early as the 17th century.

Urban renewal programmes before the second world war and in the 1960s left behind huge amounts of unwanted debris, from gables ripped from the city’s famous canal houses to monuments, ornaments and columns complete with Roman numerals.

But with the knowledge that one person’s rubbish is another’s treasure, the stonework was stored in the intervening decades by the municipality in 200 huge pallets in a depot in a secret location.

The city’s department of monuments and archeology has decided to take advantage of the treasure trove of architectural debris in an attempt to give Amsterdam’s golden age a second life.

“It is time to reuse these parts so that we can all enjoy them again”, the municipality has announced. In its attempt to “breathe new life” into old Amsterdam, a 190-page on-line catalogue of the old stonework has been put online to allow every Amsterdammer to own a piece of their heritage.

Some of the items come with their original architectural drawings
Some of the items come with their original architectural drawings. Photograph: Municipality of Amsterdam

The stone has been ranked in terms of quality, from “complete gables” down to “debris”. Some of the items come with their original architectural drawings or black and white photographs showing their previous use.

All the pieces are being offered free of charge but the criteria for taking ownership is stricter for pieces deemed to be of extra value because “there is more documentation left or because they are still in relatively good condition”.

Today, the epitome of Amsterdam’s wealth and power during the 17th century can be seen in the rows of gabled houses along the three main canals in the centre of the city: Herengracht, Prinsengracht and Keizersgracht.

Among the debris on offer is the old facade of a canal house at 126 Herengracht called ‘t Moortje, due to its Moorish appearance.

Applicants must provide a convincing idea for the stoneworks’ future use to take ownership. Potential uses include art projects or new building developments. “The often special stones, ornaments, frames and, for example, columns can be a wonderful addition to, for example, a new-build project,” the municipality says.

Residents have until the end of December to come up with ideas and proposals. The fragments can be collected in spring 2020 but anyone interested needs to organise their own means of transport for the stonework.

“Maybe you happen to be a fan and self-builder?” the municipality asks. “Then consider a historic element in your modern Amsterdam facade! But a construction fragment can also be suitable for public spaces or as an application in an art project. And there are even more possibilities, for example, a museum can exhibit it or it can be used as educational material. [The department of] monuments and archeology is open to creative applications!”


Daniel Boffey in Brussels

The GuardianTramp

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