Netherlands Re-Visited (Page 3)


The following is a motley collection of pictures of buildings which I took for one reason or another.

First of all, building in Holland is made difficult because a lot of the land is sandy or soggy ground, which doesn't provide a stable foundation on which to build. Most of the time this is successfully dealt with by sinking deep pylons that can reach and then stand on terra firma, but sometimes it goes wrong.

Here is a fine example - the Oldehove in Leeuwarden which leans more than the Tower of Pisa but isn't nearly as famous. It started tipping even as they were building it, so the builders tried to compensate by inserting several 'kinks' in the tower, but the project was eventually stopped and the tower is in fact incomplete. It dates from around 1530.

Amsterdam is likewise built on light sandy soil which was deposited over the ages on the edge of a river delta. Many of the buildings that constitute the heart of downtown were constructed hundreds of years ago - on top of wood pilings. These pilings seem to have done the job pretty well and have lasted so far - but there are places where a slow but inexorable sag is taking place.

Observe the second building on the right in this street - at ground level its front is nicely aligned with that of its neighbors, but at the roof line it is a different matter.

Sometimes these buildings will be retrofitted with long iron rods that run from one outside wall, all the way through the building to the opposite outside wall, in an effort to keep the brick walls from bowing out and buckling - which would be catastrophic. Bricks and mortar are a fine building material where the load is strictly one of vertical compression. It has lousy characteristics for withstanding any kind of sideways force, and is especialy bad if things are not in alignment and there is an urge to bow sideways.

Sometimes it can get out of hand and even stronger measures have to be taken. In this building, we can see that long rods have already been threaded through the building from the front wall to the back, and from one side to the other. The ends of these rods are capped by the vertical retaining flanges which you can see encircling this building at the junction of the ground floor with the first floor.

In the case of this building, this was clearly not enough, and external supporting braces have been put in place to secure the structure. These are not some temporary safety device pending demolition and reconstruction of the building. These are essentialy permanent fixtures until the building reaches the end of its useful life - which may be many decades from now.

Seen through the eyes of somebody who lives in earthquake country (here even solid well-constructed brick buildings on a firm foundation pose a serious hazard) the idea that this kind of structure is not immediately red-flagged and declared unsafe for habitation - it boggles the mind. One very minor temblor and...

I chose this picture to point out two aspects of Holland which are worth a special mention.

It is a relatively small country and is densely populated, so the luxury of a garden is enjoyed by few. Even then, the backyards and frontyards that exist in suburbia are postage-stamp sized. The luxury of a large house in the country with an ample back garden is available to very few.

Then the concept that Holland is flat, and the slightest hill is worthy of note. If you look carefully at this picture, you will see that the ground slopes up slightly to the left. The summit of this "hill" is not even 20 feet above that of the surrounding terrain, and maybe 25 feet above sea level. But this hill is so remarkable that it is a noted feature of the township where it is located. This suburb and the local bus-stop are both named after this hill.

This picture is for sentimental reasons - it is the flower shop where we got the flowers and wedding bouquet for our wedding over 40 years ago. It is still there and essentialy unchanged.

It is also an example of the various characteristic architectures that can define certain neighborhoods in older Dutch cities. This is in an area of The Hague known as the "Statenkwartier" and this building is good example of the architecture one finds in this quarter. Tall windows with leaded glass in the upper portion, the occasional turret and dormers to break up the roof line, some decorative brickwork and so on.

The Hague is a charming city with interesting neighborhoods and architectures. But it is blighted with one excrescence, one that epitomizes the loud boorish ugly American.

It is of course the American Embassy, a building whose design evokes the idea of a giant dog with square intestines, who has deposited a large concrete dropping on the sidewalk. It was bad enough in its original form, but now made worse in the last few years by being surrounded with an ugly security fence and protective bollards - presumably to deter any restless natives from showering the occupants with garlands and rose petals.

This fortress is in stark contrast to the Dutch Houses of Parliament which are a few hundred yards away, and where tourists can walk right up to the doors of the various buildings and talk to the concierge, where the casual passer-by can take as many photographs as he wants without alarming any guards patrolling the perimeter.

Here is a the main street of a little village in Friesland. The houses along the side of the street are very typical and reflect a huge change that has overtaken this area in the course of the last century or so.

Frisians are by-and-large tall people - but 100 years ago they were much shorter - especialy in the poverty-stricken backwaters where the inhabitants eked out a living and did not enjoy the benefits of a nutritious diet and the health information we have today.

Over the course of last part of the 19th century and first half of the 20th century, radical improvement occurred - the effects of which can be seen in the height of the ground floor (and front door) of these cottages built in the course of that 100 years or so. The three heights shown here reflect the end of the 19th century, the depression years, and then post WWII.

Current building standards in The Netherlands require even taller doors. Even the interior doors of modern houses are now much taller than the 80 inch (2 meter) standard that we are used to in the U.S.A.

This is a rather magnificent old Town Hall in a market town in Friesland, but I chose this photo to show something which I haven't come across anywhere else - at least not in this form.

The trees alongside the edge of the building have been pruned and trained over the years to join together in a sort of espaliered fashion. This is not unusual even in front of a small house on a village street or a big farmhouse.

In the previous picture you can in fact see a group of trees like this - further down the street almost at the left edge of the photograph.

Here is another example of espaliered trees in front of some houses on a village street.

But the type of building that evokes for me the strongest feelings of "place" is the classic Frisian farmhouse. Basically you take a huge tall barn and divide it into a smaller front part for the family, and a larger rear part for the animals, hay, implements, and other accoutrements of farming.

Some of these farm houses will have thatched roofs, others will be tiled like this one, with different colored tiles marking the two separate parts of the building. In this example a new separate storage barn has been built to the right, presumably to help accommodate the tractors and other mechanised devices that are now part of any modern farm.

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