Amsterdam flat fire may have been fuelled by upward extension

Inspecting the damage. Photo: Koen van Weel ANP

A type of lightweight construction may be to blame for the rapid spread of fire that left 95 apartments in Amsterdam uninhabitable this weekend, a fire prevention expert has told the Telegraaf.

At least 20 of the flats on the upper three floors of the eight storey building will be unusable for up to three years, while the investigation and renovation work are carried out following the blaze on Saturday night.

The three floors were added later to the building, which was originally a five-storey office complex dating from 1991. The conversion and extension were carried out five years ago.

According to fire officers who attended the blaze, the fire may have started on the sixth floor and the flames may traveled via a cavity wall to the roof.

The three floors were not made of brick but of steel and wood, making construction easier and quicker, and according to the website of architects Ector Hoogstad Architecten “without any adjustments to the existing construction”.

Compartments would have prevented the fire from spreading at the pace it did, former firefighter and fire prevention expert Fred Vos told the paper.

“The [construction] is what this is about,” he said. “It is asking for trouble. I am very surprised that extending the building in this way was ever approved,” Vos said.

Amsterdam city councilor Myron von Gerhardt (VVD) said the rapid spread of the fire needs explaining urgently, particularly since another big fire destroyed 75 apartments in a container housing complex in the capital only last year.

“It’s very odd the fire reached the roof and got out of control so quickly. That shouldn’t have happened,” Von Gerhardt commented. The construction process, he said, throws up “question marks about other buildings” built along similar lines.

The process of adding a lightweight construction to extend apartment blocks upwards has been growing in popularity, with similar projects in Rotterdam, Eindhoven as well as in the Dutch capital.

And last month housing minister Hugo de Jonge suggested that between 80,000 and 260,000 new apartments could be created by building new storeys on top of existing buildings and splitting houses into separate flats. 


An investigation into the exact cause of the fire by the fire brigade is still ongoing. Meanwhile, the first residents of the 95 apartments are expected to be able to return within three months but some 20 apartments will be uninhabitable for as much as three years.

A spokesman for owner and landlord Vesteda said the company was launching an investigation of its own.

Architects Ector Hoogstad Architecten did not comment apart from saying they “regretted what happened and were happy no one got hurt”.

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