22 June 2012

The Amsterdam Museum in, er, Amsterdam

Another damp day in early June in Amsterdam which meant finding another museum to shelter in.

And that's not a problem as Amsterdam has its fair share of museums and it is a small city so they are are close by.

The one I chose was the nearest, because it was the nearest, and that was the Amsterdam Museum.

Like the V&A in London, this has been pulled together from several building in the same area and retains their original layouts so, as a whole, it is bit of a confusing mess. Even with a map, and they copied theirs from the V&A too.

First it was upstairs to see the story of Amsterdam as it grew from a ditch to one of Europe's most vibrant cities. Here we got the good news that the Amsterdam Museum is one of the highest points in the city at 1.2m above sea level. Other parts have more confidence in the dikes than I think I would have.

The chronology runs along the length of a long room and seems to be aimed at people just like me, which is good because I am just like me.

The story flows logically (as time tends to) and the curators have selected some quirky incident to highlight along the way.

The red map of Amsterdam repeats and is bigger each time.

Unlike London, the growth is always in to pastures new, there are no villages to sweep up along the way, and this has enabled Amsterdam to keep its focus on the centre (where is the centre of London these days?).

The medieval street pattern is still very clear today as are the patterns of expansion.

Moving across the walkway to another building and going down then up (or was it up then down?) some steps takes you in to the main part of the museum where certain aspects of the history are expanded on.

A recurring theme here and in other museums is the planning that went in to Amsterdam.

All of Amsterdam's expansions have been carefully designed and controlled. It all fits together, it all feels the same, and it works.

I forget which phase of development this was, and that does not really matter. What is shows is various stages of planned and actual growth. This is a degree of planning that London gave up to speculative developers ages ago.

The museum continues its V&A look and feel in the other hard-to-find-again rooms that show aspects of Amsterdam's history in objects, drawings and film.

For some reason I did not take a photo of Rembrandt's painting of a brain being dissected with the skin peeled off the head of the corpse. Not really my cup of tea.

Kitchens are though. This is a reconstruction of one from a development that at the time would have seem very modern.

It is also designed to be functional and takes account of how people work and move in a kitchen. This was a novel idea then.

Similarly this painting shows the hopes and aspirations of another new development.


This photograph shows how much of a blank canvass planners had to work on.

The land is flat and there are no natural features to work around or fight with. Water is the natural enemy but that can be tamed with pipes and sluices.

While Amsterdam was building low-rise blocks like these London was experimenting with tower-blocks and mock-Tudor villages. Both failed in their own way.

Amsterdam has always allowed plenty of space between the buildings too so there is less of a split between urban and suburban areas - they all have space but not the profligate private space that our suburbs have.


If you put a model of a city in a museum then I am going to take a photograph of it.

It is either that or come up with a cunning plan to steal it.

This one is just lovely.

Here the zone and grid design is clear to see, as the parks and waterways.

I have focused on the maps and models because that is what I like the most but I do not want to give the impression that this is all the museum has, or even that this is what most of it is like.

I could have shared pictures of furniture, toys, fabrics, paintings, ceramics and plenty of the stuff. I did not simply because I ran out of space and wanted to show what interested me the most.

The Amsterdam Museum kept reminding me of the V&A and not least because there were unexpected surprises around every corner and I found interesting things that I did not know were going to be interesting before I found them. Like a kitchen.

The Amsterdam Museum is most definitely worth a visit, even if it is not raining.

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