In 1894 the head office for the Diamond Union in Amsterdam was developed by the famous architect Hendrik Petrus Berlage. The building is located in a neighboorhood called ‘De Plantage’. This neighboorhood was developed in the 19th century because a lot of rich people who lived in the canal area wanted to escape the bad smells which were still there at the time. In this new neighboorhood there was and still is a lot of greenery. I will write more extensively about it in the future.
Henri Polak was the first social democrat in the city government and the founder of the Diamond Union in Amsterdam (the ‘Algemene Nederlandse Diamantbewerkers Bond’, abbreviated as ANDB). Polak thought it was important to give the workers some kind of protection and the Union became very popular.The members paid a fee of 4% of their income and because of this there was quite a lot of money available for instance to pay workers who became unemployed but also to construct a head office.
A young architect called Hendrik Petrus Berlage was hired to develop a new building. He was multi-talented, not only did he plan the construction of the building but he also designed things like carpets, furniture and lamps. On the 1st of August 1900 the building was officially opened. Berlage was developing another building in Amsterdam at the same time called ‘De beurs van Berlage’ which became more famous. Both buildings were created with the italian palazzo in mind, sobriety and massiveness being key elements of this type of building.
Berlage created a big flight of stairs to give the building some grandeur. On top of the building you can see crenellations which were for the people of Amsterdam a reason to give the building it’s nickname ‘De Burcht’ (the Castle). In the top of the tower there is lamp in the shape of a diamond but it gives so much light that the people living opposite of ‘De Burcht’ are not very fond of it, it apparently disturbs their sleep, so it is rarely used.
A lot of symbolism can be seen at the exterior but especially in the interior. A number of references were made to the struggle of the workers for better working conditions and the ideal of elevating the workers to another spiritual level ( by way of a library, plays, etcetera). Berlage tried to incorparate two important elements that were important for him: clarity and simplicity.
If we go inside what immediately strikes you is a wonderfull 12-meter lamp created by Jan Eisenloeffel (which means iron spoon, a wonderful name) constructed in 1919. It weighs 1100 kilograms! In the hallway you can see two big photo’s.
One of them was made during a meeting of international socialists, you can even see Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg who were murdered in 1919 by the german Freikorps. On the other photo you can see the personnel of ‘De Burcht’. If you look up you will see a big round window which supplies light to the centre of the building. The tiles on the walls of the groundfloor are darker (mostly a dark yellow) than the ones on the first floor and the tiles on the second floor where more white tiles were used. The idea was that if you go up (meaning further in time) that things will get lighter, in tis case for the workers.
If you enter a door behind the hallway you will see the core of the building: the council room. The decorations of the room, made by Richard Roland Holst between 1904 and 1907, symbolise the struggle of the labourmovement.
If you go up one flight of stairs you will find the second most important room of the building: the boardroom. It was decorated in honour of a major achievement of the Union: they introduced the 8-hour working day in 1911. This was the first time in the world that this was realised! The decorations symbolise the ideal division of the day in three parts: eight hours of work, eight hours of rest and eight hours of relaxation and personal development. Another major achievement was that workers of the diamond industry got one week of paid holiday in 1911.
On the second floor the most interesting room is the library and reading room. All the members of the Union could use this room. Some two hundred books were in store and the library became a very popular place, not only for lending books and reading but as well for watching plays that wre being performed here. Here as well the idea of individual development of the worker was behind it all.
In the period 2008-2010 the building was renovated. Some important repairwork was done on the building itself and some interior features were restored in the original historic state. The building is now being used by the labourmovement for scientific research, can be used for several special occasions ( De Burcht is an official weddinglocation in Amsterdam), conferences or meetings and can be visited with a guide.
I can really recommend visiting the building, either if you live here or if you are visting the town. You have to take in mind that the building can only be visited on certain days of the year and it is a good idea to make a reservation. If you visit the following website you can learn more about De Burcht or make a reservation: www.deburcht.nl
Amsterdam, 21st of November 2018
- a tour I made on the 18th of november 2018
- a leaflet of Vereniging Hendrick de Keyser called ‘De Burcht’
- Geschiedenis van Amsterdam, part IV, 1900-2000, Sun, Amsterdam 2007
- Amsterdamse gebouwen, 1880-1980, number 29 ( order in which the buildings are described), Het Spectrum B.V. 1981