Field Trip: De Burcht

De Burcht, Amsterdam

If you read Taxonomy of Windows you know Bubble windows are rare. In Amsterdam, next to the Artis zoo, one caught my eye. You must look up to find it, above a tower beneath a dramatic staircase. 

This is De Burcht, the headquarters of ANDB, the country’s first trade union. It is fascinating, as with most buildings, for how it looks and for its purpose. Designed by H.P. Berlage, inspired by Tuscan castles, it has a wide facade topped by acroteria spades. It was started for diamond cutters, supporting them in all aspects of their work, from finger slicing to paid holiday vacations and pension plans. 

This sense of socialist unity is repeated in rows of sash windows on the front – strong men supporting one another. Up the flight of stairs, made to represent the efforts inside, through the Tuscan arched door (bricks widen as they meet in the center), and into the atrium. A three-piece chandelier drops from the glass ceiling. Each tier can be studied up close while climbing the stunning wide staircase. One can only imagine the chance encounters and conversations upon these stairs. 

The building is tight, and sumptuous. The main room, used for events, is dark and decorated with allegorical murals and De School lamps. The library on the top floor is green, poorly lit, but beautifully cozy for study. 

Then the boardroom. Big enough for six men to sit around a table and discuss the rights of workers. Framing the wall are three paintings: the Strong Hours – the Soft Hours – the Deep Hours. This was how each day should be divided: time for work, time for pleasure, and time for sleep. So much of our working lives today were designed in this very room. On the table, postcards from the workers and their families on their first ever holidays.

And up above top, the Bubble window. For a brief amount of time a city lighthouse, lit by a rotating lamp that shined in the evenings, quietly called to another hard day.

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