Hijsbalk - Amsterdam Roof Hooks

I was in Amsterdam last week, visiting ex-colleague Andrew Pendrick, who’s recently moved there for a new job.

It’s a wonderful city, full of interesting buildings, cozy cafes, bikes and canals.

One thing I noticed whilst wandering around is that most of the buildings have a protruding beam on the top floor, at the end of which is a hook.

What’s it for? Well, hoisting things up (and down), of course. I was lucky enough to see one in use, being used by some builders along with a rope and a pulley to lower buckets of plasterboard down from a third floor window.

Three buildings side by side, each with a beam sticking out from the roof, with a hook on the underside. Beneath the middle one hangs a pulley wheel, dangling from which is a rope.
A roof hook in use

These hooks are called hijsbalk in Dutch, and seem to be fairly unique to Amsterdam, as a solution to the problems of steep, narrow staircases. Some buildings even lean forward slightly, to make it less likely that items dangling from the hook crash into a window.

I wonder who first thought of this, and how it came to become a standard architectural feature. It’s a great example of designing for adaptation and practical usage.