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The Leaning Houses of Amsterdam

Ever wonder why all of Amsterdam's old houses lean like drunken sailors on a Saturday night? After the great fires of 1421 and 1452, which swept through and destroyed nearly three-quarters of the city, building regulations became stricter and wooden structures were forbidden. Only two early timbered examples remain in Amsterdam, though others might be lurking behind more "modern" facades: the Houten Huis (Wooden House) at the Begijnhof built in the second half of the 15th century, and No. 1 Zeedijk, completed in 1550. Since brick is a substantially heavier material than wood (and the city is still sinking into the mud at a slow and steady pace), all structures were built on wooden pilings slammed deep into the sand. Without enough depth (and Jordaan construction was particularly suspect), or with fluctuating water-table levels, the wooden pilings begin to crumble and the house tilts. Today, rotten wooden pilings can be replaced with cement ones, without tearing down the building.

Updated: 11-2013

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