Architecture also added to the reputation of Netherland art in 17th century Europe. Dutch Renaissance, succeeded by the severe classicism of the middle of the century, set the style in large areas of northern Europe. The persecution of Alva caused the emigration of many Netherland architects.
The economic relations of the northern Lowlands with the Baltic countries determined their paths of exile, and we find traces of them in East Frlesland, in Denmark, and in Danzig. Increasing prosperity of the towns furthered the desire of town councilors and burgomasters in Holland to display the wealth of the citizens and the grandeur of the town in rich public buildings. This laudable pride on the part of a city government led to the construction of the town hall of Amsterdam. The project, designed and begun by Jacob van Campen, Lord Randenbroek, descendant of an aristocratic family in Amsterdam, and completed by Daniel Stalpaert and Pieter Post, was so monumental that the burgomasters had the work started without revealing its full magnitude to the councilors, lest it be rejected as too costly and ambitious.
Begun in 1648, "the eighth wonder of the world" was so far completed after seven years that it could house the magistracy. For a century and a half it remained the seat of Amsterdam's government, to be handed over as a palace in 1808 to Louis Napoleon, king of Holland by the grace of his brother Napoleon. It is still in use as a royal residence, for which it is ill-suited, and a latent conflict over its ownership between the kingdom of the Netherlands and the city of Amsterdam was settled in favor of the former a few years ago.
Jacob van Campen's works were few in number. His successor as the leading Netherland architect was Pieter Post of Haarlem, builder of the Mauritshuis, formerly the palace of Johan Haunts of Nassau, governor of Brazil, and now a museum; of the marvelous town hall of Maastricht; and of the "House in the Woods," built for Frederick Henry of Orange-Nassau.
Unlike Van Campen, Post had risen from the artisan class. His father is mentioned in the archives as a glass painter; and like so many architects, young Pieter began his career in a painter's studio. Like Van Campen, he was profoundly influenced in his architectural conceptions by French models, and French architects appear among his colleagues; but Netherland culture was far too vigorous to slavishly imitate foreign examples. Moreover, the commissions of architects in Holland and Zeeland were very different from those of architects of France.
Orders for the building of palaces or chateaux were rare in the land of shopkeepers and seafarers, but there were numerous demands by wealthy merchants for the rebuilding of their town and country houses into solid and spacious private residences. The town house, with its gabled facade and its decorations in variegated stone, was the architect's usual subject. Rare were the occasions when a merchant, often more powerful than many a prince, wanted his might and opulence expressed in the scale and design of his dwelling.
Opportunities to build churches were also rare. In many towns the Calvinist congregations found ample space in the magnificent churches built in earlier Catholic centuries, Amsterdam, with its rapidly growing population, was an exception. The Westerkerk ("Western Church") of Amsterdam built by Hendrick de Keyser in 1620, is one of the best examples of this new ecclesiastical architecture, which represents a transition from the traditional type of Catholic church to a new form better adapted to Protestant forms of worship.