Sunday, June 1, 2014

Dutch architecture and other oddities.

So why are the houses crooked in Holland?

The Dutch, while generally a peaceful people, have one enemy that they have been battling since they settled in the Low Country. That enemy is... Water.
Instead of leaving, because there was too much water, the Dutch - who are very innovative people - decided to just get rid of the water.
So they started to reclaim the land, by pumping out water with - you guessed it! - windmills. Unfortunately, most of Holland is peatland. Peat is like a sponge. When filled with water, it's large and, well, full! But without the water, it sort of sinks in on itself and crumbles.

This is what started to happen when too much water was being pumped out of parts of the Netherlands, and that is why the houses in those parts started to sink!

Today, more than half of the Netherlands in under sea level!

Alright, that's one mystery solved. So, why do some of the houses lean forward?

For a very simple reason. Many Dutch houses are tall and skinny, often with three floors. What happens when you want your roll top desk or your piano moved to the second floor?
Well, you CERTAINLY don't want to take it up the stairs... Like the houses, the staircases are tall and skinny - and not only tall and skinny, but twisty and curvy too! Going up might be difficult on the shins, but coming down is risking your life, because there isn't room enough for your whole foot to be placed on the stair. So, you have to do an odd sideways shuffle down the stairs and hope you don't fall and break your neck on the way down.

(No wonder the Dutch word for 'stair' is 'trap'!)

So, you don't want to take your piano up the stairs (actually, it's pretty much impossible). What do you do? This is where the leaning house comes in. 
On most traditional Dutch houses, there is a hook on the top, which you can tie a rope to. The rope can be tied to objects on the ground, and those objects can be hauled up to the higher floors and pulled in through one of the large windows. 
You don't want your piano bumping up against the side of the house and ruining both piano and house... therefore, the houses lean out! 

One thing that my mom loved about Holland was the giant windows. You could see everything from inside! Actually, you could see everything inside from outside as well, for not many Dutch people have curtains. And if they do have curtains, they seldom close them.

All of the older buildings are made of brick, and instead of shingled roofs, the roofs are either tiled or thatched. (Kind of funny that in London, in order to have a thatched roof on The Globe theater, they had to have a special permit, but in Holland, most of the farmhouses are thatched!)

(In every town, there was at least a handful of buildings covered in construction work.)
(Roof being tiled.)
(Flying over Holland's cities, all we saw was a mess of orange roofs.)

Dutch houses are small - 'quaint' - but there is room for everything. In the United States, people can have a virtual mansion and still not have "enough space." Perhaps the Dutch are more content or more minimalistic than Americans? I'd love to be more like my relatives in that respect. (Although not in the area of books. You can never have too many books... well, you can never have too many good books. And they're so easy to store too!)

Live long and prosper!


  1. THAT IS SO COOL!!!!! I am going to go around and see how many people I can tell my new found Dutch house knowledge too. That is just so cool!!!! All of it!!!!

    1. Haha. I know, right? It makes you want to go buy one!

  2. Those are some really interesting facts! That makes sense about hauling things in through the window, but it's kind of frightening to think doing that made the whole building lean forward!

    1. Usually, the leaning part is a false front, I believe... (Or is the false front the little swirly bits at the top of the building? Now I can't remember.)

  3. Well, the old buildings in Holland certainly have a lot of character.

    I suppose you can't have too many good books... books and board games; you can't have too many good board games either. (space starts filling up...) Books and board games; that's it! Oh, and bikes... you need a couple bikes! Books, board games & bikes; but that's it (minimalism slowly disappearing...) Books, board games and bikes! And... (walls explode outward!!!)

  4. Wow, that last picture of you flying over the orange roofs - I'm amazed your plane didn't crash! I would add banknotes to that list. You can never have too many of those either.

  5. Great post. I remember Oom Jaap also explaining that back in the day the owners would install the pilings themselves and didn't do a very good job so the houses leaned. The govt got involved to do the piling but started taxing based on house width to recoup costs. So innovative Amsterdamers built their homes as tall and narrow as possible.