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Contrary to what you may think, Felix Meritis is neither the name of a wealthy Amsterdam resident, nor an architect or writer. If you know a bit of Latin, you will be aware that the name of this building is a Latin expression that means “Happy through merit”.
This was the name of the eighteenth-century fraternity which, during the Enlightenment, sought social progress through the arts, sciences and trade.
The building, which was constructed in 1787 by Jacob Otten Husly, has a surprising Neoclassical pomp, particularly noteworthy for a city like Amsterdam where the architectural landscape is highly uniform.
Felix Meritis Huis is thus a palace that fulfils all the rules of style of the second half of the eighteenth century. To construct it the fraternity purchased and demolished four houses in order to build a true Temple to the Enlightenment.
The building is remarkable for its contrast with the other houses in the street, both because of its size and its architectural style, and features four huge, robust columns that support a sculpted pediment.
In keeping with the different disciplines of interest to the fraternity, the Felix Meritis house had rooms for literary meetings and for debates. The building likewise had an elliptical concert hall with model acoustics that years later were copied in the small hall of the capital’s Concertgebouw.
A terrible fire destroyed much of the facade in 1932 and it was restored. This, however, was not the only change to which the palace bore witness. Indeed, after the Second World War, the Communist Party of the Netherlands established its main office and the editorial office of its newspaper in the fraternity’s former headquarters.
In the nineteen-seventies, the use of the building changed again to revert to something more similar to its original purpose: a cultural centre. The Experimental Theatre group, Shaffy, established itself on the site and organised dance, mime, theatre and music performances.
Throughout this time, the Felix Meritis fraternity reorganised its structure, its nature and its way of operating. It currently operates as a well-known foundation on the same premises upon which it began.
Today, the palace is a multicultural site, a meeting point for European artists, an experimental place where debates, performances and lectures are held in its six fabulous eighteenth-century rooms.
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