Baked Stone: The Netherlands Build in Brick

Brick is an inseparable part of the Dutch identity. In the Netherlands and Belgium alike, everyone dreams of having their own house. And this house, ideally to be detached from its neighbours, should be of brick: «A Belgian is born with a brick» goes the Flemish proverb.

Baked Stone: The Netherlands Build in Brick

What is now The Netherlands has no deposits of good building stone and so it always had to be brought in from elsewhere — the nearest supply being in neighbouring contemporary Belgium and Germany — and was correspondingly expensive. But fairly good quality clay and sand was washed down the rivers traversing the country. Stone was viewed as a luxury and was supposed to be an indication of special prestige, as can be deduced by looking at the exteriors of old buildings. While the 14th century bell tower of the Oude Kerk in Delft is completely built out of brick, by the time the upper stages of the bell tower of the Nieuwe Kerk were raised in the late 15th century, the city was prosperous enough to be able to do this in stone. To this end the people of Delft brought in a master mason from Brabant in 1484. Purchasing and transporting the raw material took ten years and construction of the tower was not finished until September 1496.

It were the Romans who first brought brick-making to the Netherlands, but the technology was quickly lost and only reappeared on any sort of scale in the 12th century, when the construction of wooden houses in cities was forbidden. Since then, brick has been the principle building material in the country. Unlike their neighbours, the Dutch have never taken to stuccoed brick walls. Since time immemorial, Dutch bricklayers have been renowned for the quality of their brickwork. Whereas in Germany, for example, defects in the brickwork had to be hidden under a layer of stucco, façades of Dutch buildings, in the spirit of Dutch Calvinism, make a display of the tectonics of their brick walls.

Housing and villas along the Museumlaan in Roombeek, Enschede, 2000-2008

Housing and villas along the Museumlaan in Roombeek, Enschede, 2000-2008 © Ivan Nevzgodin

Molenaar&Van Winden Architecten, Housing Block ‘t Nieuwe Roomveldje, Enschede, 2001-2005

Molenaar&Van Winden Architecten, Housing Block ‘t Nieuwe Roomveldje, Enschede, 2001-2005 © Ivan Nevzgodin

bOb van Reeth (AWG Architecten, Antwerp, Belgium), The Sebastiaanshof in Delft, 2001-2005

bOb van Reeth (AWG Architecten, Antwerp, Belgium), The Sebastiaanshof in Delft, 2001-2005 © Ivan Nevzgodin

Main images: Marc Koehler Architects, House in IJburg, Stijgereiland, Amsterdam, 2007 © Marc Koehler / Mecanoo. Student Housing of DUWO in Delft, 2008-2009 © Mecanoo