De Haagse Portiekwoningen – “Porch Houses” of The Hague

Every year in September I take part in a door-to-door fundraising event organized by the Kidney Foundation. Good work with an unexpected result: aching quadriceps muscles. And why is that? My fundraising route includes a street with a unique type of dwelling called a “Haagse Portiekwoning”, which in English translates to “The Hague Porch House”. Many residents of The Hague live in such a house. From 1901 into the 1930’s approximately 100.000 houses of this type were built in The Hague — but very few outside the city.

Haagse Portiekwoning JulianaVanStolberglaan
Juliana van Stolberglaan*

The “Haagse portiekwoning” is an apartment with the entrance on a landing on the first floor (in the European sense!). This landing can be reached by a an open-air stairway that begins right at the sidewalk, rising between brick walls. On this landing you will find four doors. Two of the doors open directly into the apartments on the first floor. Behind the other two doors are enclosed stairways to the apartments on the second floor.

Affordable and safe

In the second half of the 19th century many residents of The Hague lived in poor housing. The city had grown fast in the previous decades, and because of a lack of regulations, landlords could operate unrestricted.

They built small houses – “hofjes” – in enclosed areas with poor sanitation, no light and air and very damp. The authorities and well-meaning private citizens realized that this situation had to change. At the same time housing for labourers and the lower middle classes had to remain affordable.

Van Aerssenstraat*

In order to keep the houses affordable, multi-storey buildings were unavoidable. But the authorities of The Hague didn’t want large buildings packed with people. And because of a lot of incidents with older houses, it was clear that wooden, indoor stairs were a fire hazard. 


So they came up with regulations: not more than 3 levels and stairs that could not catch fire. And every dwelling unit in a building must have its own front door. Architects realized very soon that a steep stair to the first floor landing left more living space for the ground floor residents.

On and off the stairs

The advantages and disadvantages of the “Haagse Portiekwoning” are the same today as they were in the years they were built. Residents don’t have to go down to street level to answer the door or to collect the mail. On the other hand, if someone makes a delivery (or asks for money for charity), he or she has to climb the steep outdoor stairway. 

Bakers and milkmen don’t make deliveries any more, but thanks to online shopping other suppliers now make calls. The replacement of coal stoves by gas heating has removed one disadvantage. In the old days the coals had to be carried up the stairs and the ashes down again.

Haagse Portiekwoning Copernicuslaan

Development and varieties

The first porch houses had an extension at the back. This extension was stuck to the outer back wall and contained a number of small rooms on top of each other, at the disposal of the residents of the ground floor.

This gave the ground-floor occupants more room, but at the same time the residents of the upper floors lost access to light and fresh air. In 1920 the municipality tightened the regulation, making way for balconies. The porch houses built after 1930 often had more amenities such as a bathroom and a bay window.


Also in the 1930’s porch houses were built with an extra level, the third floor. The municipality went along with the possibility of an extra level at broad thoroughfares.

Which areas of The Hague?

You can find the “Haagse Portiekwoning” in every area of the city that was built between 1900 and the Second World War. The first were built in 1901 at Delftselaan. The Bezuidenhout, Laakkwartier, Bomen-, Bloemen- Vruchten- en Zuiderpark neighborhoods are packed with this type of house. But you will also notice them in Transvaal, Duindorp, Valkenbos and the Archipelbuurt. And even more areas could be mentioned.

Haagse Portiekwoning Beeklaan

Anyone who cycles or walks through The Hague can see and appreciate the many varieties of the “Haagse portiekwoning”. A stair directly from the sidewalk, parallel or perpendicular to the front. Entrances to the ground floor dwellings elsewhere on the front. Plain or with elaborate brickwork and stained glass windows in the porch. But the most important thing is that many The Hague residents feel at home every day in their “Haagse portiekwoning”.

I tell you about architecture in The Hague during my city walks and bicycle tours.

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Blogger Jacqueline Alders
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