Bangladesh is erg kwetsbaar. Omdat het land zo laaggelegen is en ook nog eens aan de monding van grote rivieren ligt, zijn er vaak overstromingen.
Elk jaar teisteren tropische stromen bovendien het land. In 2016 werd Bangladesh getroffen door vier orkanen, een record in de recente geschiedenis van het Aziatische land.
Door de stijgende zeespiegel kan volgens schattingen in 2050 tot wel 17 procent van het land onder water komen te staan. Daardoor moeten 18 miljoen mensen een nieuwe woonplek zoeken, aldus Atiq Rahman, de belangrijkste klimaatwetenschapper van het land.
Het Rijswijkse architectenbureau Waterstudio heeft mogelijk een oplossing voor dit probleem: drijvende gebouwen die tegen orkanen bestand zijn. Waterstudio levert eind november vijf van deze zogenoemde City Apps af in Dhaka, de hoofdstad van Bangladesh.
Waterstudio is van plan om vijf verplaatsbare ‘City Apps’ af te leveren in Korail, een sloppenwijk in Dhaka.
Foto: Een klaslokaal van City App in Amsterdam. Bron: Waterstudio
De City Apps kunnen voor verschillende toepassingen worden ingericht. Je kunt er een klaslokaal of medische kliniek van maken, maar de gebouwen zijn ook geschikt om in te wonen.
Overdag is dit drijvende gebouw een klaslokaal met 20 tablets en twee grote schermen waarop docenten iets kunnen laten zien. ‘s Avonds doet hetzelfde gebouw dienst als internetcafé.
De andere vier City Apps zullen worden ingezet als gemeenschappelijke keuken, openbaar toilet met douches en eentje met een noodgenerator voor elektriciteit. De benodigde energie komt van zonnepanelen op het dak.
De gebouwen worden bevestigd aan de zeebodem en bewegen mee met het water. Zo zijn ze beter bestand tegen stormen. Ook zijn ze waterdicht, zodat het risico op overstroming is beperkt.
De City Apps, die zo’n 43.000 euro per stuk kosten, zijn gebouwd in Amsterdam. Dat zei architect Koen Olthuis van Waterstudio tegen Business Insider.
De fundering is gemaakt van houten pallets, draad en duizenden gerecyclede plastic flessen. Daardoor is het geheel drijvend.
Waterstudio is opgericht in 2003 en staat bekend om de drijvende gebouwen die het ontwerpt. Wereldwijd heeft het architectenbureau meer dan 200 gebouwen op water neergezet, waaronder deze drijvende villa’s op IJburg, een woonwijk in het oosten van Amsterdam.
Olthuis hoopt dat hij sloppenwijken in opkomende landen kan helpen met het City App-project, met name in landen die de gevolgen van klimaatverandering zullen merken.
Waterstudio werkt samen met lokale projectontwikkelaars voor als ze meer City Apps af willen nemen.
“Sommige mensen wonen dicht bij het water, op kwetsbare plekken”, aldus Olthuis. “Met deze gebouwen kunnen ze hun leefomgeving verbeteren.”
From New York to Shanghai, coastal cities around the world are at risk from rising sea levels and unpredictable storm surges. But rather than simply building higher seawalls to hold back floodwaters, many builders and urban planners are turning to floating and amphibious architecture — and finding ways to adapt buildings to this new reality.
Some new buildings, including a number of homes in Amsterdam, are designed to float permanently on shorelines and waterways. Others feature special foundations that let them rest on solid ground or float on water when necessary. Projects range from simple retrofits for individual homes in flood zones to the construction of entire floating neighborhoods — and possibly even floating cities.
“It’s fundamentally for flood mitigation, but in our time of climate change where sea level is rising and weather events are becoming more severe, this is also an excellent adaptation strategy,” says Dr. Elizabeth English, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo School of Architecture in Ontario. “It takes whatever level of water is thrown at it in stride.”
NEW KIND OF FLOOD READINESS
From ground level, amphibious houses look like ordinary buildings. The key difference lies with their foundations, which function as a sort of raft when the water starts to rise.
In some cases, existing homes can be retrofitted with amphibious foundations to give people in flood-prone areas a less costly alternative to moving or putting their homes on stilts, says English, founder of Buoyant Foundation Project, a nonprofit based in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana and Cambridge, Ontario. “What I’m trying to do is to take existing communities and make them more resilient and give them an opportunity to continue to live in the place that they’re intimately connected to,” she says.
There are also new constructions built with amphibious foundations, such as a home designed by Baca Architects on an island in the River Thames in Marlow, England. When waters are low, the house rests on the ground like a conventional building; during floods, it floats on water that flows into a bathtub-shaped outer foundation.
Amphibious architecture isn’t about to displace conventionally designed buildings. But experts say it could become the norm in parts of Virginia, Louisiana, Alaska, and Florida, and other areas that are vulnerable to rising seas. “For some communities this might be a saving grace,” says Illya Azaroff, director of design at New York-based +LAB Architect PLLC and an associate professor of architecture at the New York City College of Technology.
Other architects are taking things a step further and building on the water itself. The Netherlands is a hotspot for such floating construction. Waterstudio, a Rijswijk-based architecture firm, recently designed nine floating homes for the town of Zeewolde. The homes look a bit like oversized floating houseboats.
Waterstudio has also designed a number of floating homes for Amsterdam’s IJBurg neighborhood. Soon these will be joined by a floating housing complex designed by the Dutch firm Barcode Architects and the Danish firm Bjarke Ingels Group. When construction is completed in 2020, the complex will have 380 apartments as well as floating gardens and a restaurant.
Floating buildings and neighborhoods are not a new idea, of course. Vietnam and Peru, among other countries, have had floating communities for centuries. But floating architecture could allow cities around the world to grow and evolve in new ways, says Waterstudio founder Koen Olthuis.
Olthius envisions cities with floating office buildings that can be detached and rearranged as needed. “It can be that you come back to a city after two or three years and some of your favorite buildings are in another location in that city,” he says, adding that buildings might be moved close together to conserve heat and separated when summer arrives.
Floating architecture can do more than prevent flood damage. By allowing the construction of buildings over water, it can give cities additional room to grow. Waterstudio is collaborating with developer Dutch Docklands on a planned community in the Maldives that will include 185 floating villas. The flower-shaped development will have restaurants, shops, and swimming pools.
The firms are also collaborating in the Maldives to build private artificial islands that will be anchored to the seafloor. The idea is to provide new places to live for residents of the low-lying islands, which are at risk of being swallowed up by rising seas. “We will let the commercial project show that the construction can work and then work with the government to help the local community,” Jasper Mulder, vice president of Dutch Docklands, told Travel + Leisure.
The islands are also meant to offer a sheltered new habitat for marine life.
“I don’t know if amphibious or floating architecture will go that far, but it is within the realm of possibility,” Azaroff says. “The overarching goal is to, one, keep people safe and, two, to allow the natural cycles to continue. Floating architecture allows you to do that in a really profound way that we didn’t have before.”
Floating architecture “takes whatever level of water is thrown at it in stride”
Rising sea levels are threatening coastal cities worldwide, and some architects and urban planners are looking to floating and amphibious buildings as a way to adapt, NBC News reported.
The may float on shorelines and waterways or alternate between floating and resting on solid ground. Waterstudio, an architecture firm from the southwest Netherlands, designed nine floating homes that look somewhat like big, floating houseboats, for the town of Zeewolde.
Another set of floating Waterstudio homes in Amsterdam will be joined by a floating housing complex, complete with restaurant and gardens, set to open in 2020.
“It’s fundamentally for flood mitigation, but in our time of climate change where sea level is rising and weather events are becoming more severe, this is also an excellent adaptation strategy,” said Elizabeth English, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo School of Architecture in Ontario, Canada, about floating architecture. “It takes whatever level of water is thrown at it in stride.”
Space is becoming increasingly scarce in our densely built-up cities. Urban living therefore requires new architectural concepts as well as modularly designed furniture that saves space and flexibly meets the most diverse requirements.
Some people consider furniture purely as a commodity: a table is therefore a table, a chair is a chair and a cupboard is simply a cupboard. We think it can be a bit more. That‘s why we also see furniture as a problem solver. And as a source of ideas that suggest, for example, how to live happily in confined spaces. Almost legendary is our stacking bed by Rolf Heide, which can be stacked on top of each other in a simple and space-saving way and can be used as an extra guest bed if required. The modern classic made of laminated wood embodies our understanding of design in a special way: timeless, minimalist design, puristic materials and intelligent functionality that creates new perspectives for a wide range of situations in an uncomplicated manner. The same idea is also followed by the Konnex shelf system, designed by Florian Gross and awarded by the German Design Council, which can be constantly redesigned and organized with its innovative plug-in principle. Different numbers of individual boxes can be modularly added to an individual storage space. As a flexible solution for people who are mobile and always feel like change.
When the Arctic Bath opens on the Lule River in Sweden next year, it will off er six cabins, a sauna, spa and restaurant, all of it surrounding an open-air cold bath. The structure will be surrounded by piled logs, a visually spectacular touch envisioned by architects Bertil Harström and Johan Kauppi. But what really sets this Nordic spa resort apart from others is the location: not just next to the river, but directly on top of it. In the summer, the spa will float on the river’s surface; in the winter, it will be frozen in place. Floating structures have been around for a long time. People have been living on houseboats for centuries in cities like Amsterdam, while in Hong Kong, thousands of people lived in massive floating villages as recently as the 1970s. Even today, the flying eaves and sultry neon of that city’s Jumbo Floating Restaurant evoke a particular kind of romance. Water has always promised a sort of freedom, too. A libertarian organisation called the Seasteading Institute is currently working on plans for autonomous fl oating cities that would roam international waters, allowing them to experiment with new forms of governance. In a world beset by rising sea levels, where technology and human behaviour seems to be changing faster than ever, a growing number of architects believe fl oating architecture could change the way we live.
THE FUTURE FOR CITIES?
“I think floating architecture is coming to a point where it’s an essential element to develop cities,” says architect Koen Olthuis, the founder of Dutch architecture practice Waterstudio. Since 2003, Olthuis has worked on floating houses, schools, resorts, swimming pools and other projects, all of them enabled by a proprietary fl oating base technology. Waterstudio recently doubled in size to 30 architects aft er it merged with British ‘aquatecture’ firm Baca Architects. Olthuis says cities can become more adaptable by embracing their waterways. “Imagine you’re doing the Olympics in Miami,” he says. “It costs you a lot of time and money, you’re building stadiums for all these European sports, but aft er the Olympics they aren’t being used anymore. There’s no soccer in Miami. So instead you could built floating stadiums, fl oating hotels and just lease them. You could have cultural events and museums that go from city to city. It’s a new way of thinking.” For the past few years, Olthuis has been working with the government of the Maldives to design these kinds of fl exible floating facilities. Think of them as modular city components that can be shuffled around according to need. The Maldives is a collection of Indian Ocean islands that are slowly being reclaimed by the sea. In the past, its officials have speculated that climate change may require the entire country to be relocated elsewhere, but Olthuis espouses a philosophy of living with water rather than trying to fight against it.
Some of his other projects include floating schools for low-income neighbourhoods in Dhaka, the flood-prone Bangladeshi capital. But in that case, as in many others, Olthuis has run up against restrictive building codes and regulations. “We’ve built six of these fl oating schools, but they’re still here in the harbour waiting to be taken to Dhaka because we can’t get the local authority to give a permit,” he says. “Our whole system is based on cities built from static elements.” So for now, floating architecture is still in the vanguard. But there are a growing number of examples around the world. Last year in Switzerland, British architect Tom Emerson designed the floating Pavilion of Reflections for the Manifesta 11 biennale, the roving European exhibition of contemporary art. The latticed wood structure served as the biennale’s focal point, with an outdoor cinema and event space with steps leading down to a public swimming pool. Bristol’s Arnolfini Centre for Contemporary Arts commissioned Brazilian artist Maria Thereza Alves and German designer Gitt a Gschwendtner to create a floating garden made from the ballast of historic ships, which can still be found in the city’s harbour. “The fact you’re literally disconnected from
land has an impact on your perceptions and perspective,” says Dutch architect Sikko Valk. “The moment your feet leave shore, you’re crossing a bridge over water, and there your break from the everyday routine begins. It’s quite symbolic.” Together with art director Remko Verhaagen, Valk designed the Good Hotel, which began life as a pop up social enterprise project on the waters of Amsterdam (it employs and trains long term unemployed locals). It is now floating at the Royal Victoria Dock in London. This wasn’t a new build – the hotel was originally a floating jail. “Given its original safeguarding purpose, in many ways this structure is built more robustly than most land-based buildings,” says Valk. The rooms are fairly small, because most of the internal walls are load-bearing, so the design team focused on making them inviting, with “warm and tactile” materials like rough carpets and wood panelling, says Valk. In the lobby and lounge areas, the designers were able to remove some walls in order to create large, open spaces. The eff ect is a long way from the traditional cloistered environment of a boat. “Where the corridors and rooms are cosy, we created the main public area to be open with sections that can be fl exibly set up,” says Verhaagen. After a year in Amsterdam, Good Hotel was hoisted onto a barge and ferried across the English Channel to London. It was a journey that took
quite a bit of preparation — the hotel weighs eight million kilograms — but it’s an example of the inherent mobility of floating structures.
That’s one of the main concepts behind wa_sauna, which plies the many waterways of Seattle. Launched by goCstudio in 2016, the minimalist plywood sauna sits on a 23-square-metre platform fitted with an electric trolling motor. “We licensed [it] as a registered vessel – this was one way we were able to have the structure on the water for use at any time without traditional permits,” says designer Aimee O’Carroll. “It seemed like a great fi t for Seatt le, a city which is surrounded by water and has a history of Scandinavian culture,” she says. Rather than find a client, the designers launched a crowdfunded campaign, and they now use the sauna for events. “It’s a respite in the middle of the water while remaining in the heart of the city,” says O’Carroll. “The lakes here remain usable throughout the year and provide the perfect cold plunge. Since it’s a self propelled vessel, the waterways which surround the city gave us a unique relationship to the urban environment.”
A CONNECTION TO THE WATER
Water defines many of the world’s major cities – Hong Kong would never have been colonised if not for its harbour, London thrived because of the River Thames and the aquatic ingenuity of Venice once sustained a vast trading network. And yet the average citizen of these cities remains disconnected from their waterways. Like the wa_ sauna, a number of floating projects are designed to take advantage of this underutilised resource. In Florida, a new project by architect and engineer Carlo Ratti aims to create a partially submerged floating plaza along the redeveloped waterfront of West Palm Beach. “Our idea is to
off er views that extend over the waterline,” says Ratti, who is the founding partner of design firmCRA and the director of the MIT Senseable City Lab. He plans to achieve that by creating a plazza based on the double hull of a submarine. A system of water pumps will fill and empty an air-water chamber located below the surface of the water, which allows the platform to move up and down. “Sensors detect variations in height, so that the system responds accordingly. As a result, the platform hovers at the surface of the water – creating space by subtraction and presenting different view perspectives over the waterline.” This isn’t the first time Ratt has incorporated water into one of his projects. His design for the Digital Water Pavilion for the 2008 Zaragoza World Expo in Spain used digitally-controlled water walls to define the space. “I think that one of the most interesting aspects is to imagine a ‘fluid’ architecture that adapts to human need, rather than the other way around – a living, tailored space that is moulded to its inhabitants’
needs, characters, and desires,” he says. “Water is a reconfigurable material.” It’s not only configurable for human life. In the years since he opened Waterstudio, Koen Olthuis has come to realise that floating architecture can be a boon to marine life. “We analyse locations so we know what we can and can’t built there,” he says. One of his projects is called Blue Habitat “Those are fantastic artificial coral reefs which we can just connect underneath our structures. Then you are sitting inside your house and you can monitor it and change it.” There is still a curious reticence when it comes to floating architecture. “Even in Holland, where we live mostly under sea level, and water is all around us, large floating structures are still not really common,” says Sikko Valk. “It is in a way quite unexplored territory.”
Koen Olthuis expects that to change in the future. He has already sensed a shift in the priorities of the architects who come to work for him. “The architects that come to our offices are not like architects 15 years ago, who wanted to build extreme iconic architecture. They are architects who want to make a change,” he says.
Dutch-designed floating breakwater which doubles as an energy generator is modeled after the Parthenon
The Parthenon Seawall is a new suggestion for a floating breakwater which would protect harbours and coastlines from tidal force, turning it into electrical power.
In ancient Greek mythology, Olympian god Poseidon used his trident to master the sea; thousands of years later, the need to master the sea remains as pressing as ever and it is of little wonder that those facing the task looked to ancient Greece for inspiration. This is true of the innovative Netherlands-based architecture firm ‘Waterstudio’ led by Architect Koen Olthius and specialising in floating urban structures. The studio’s mission statement is “developing solutions to the problems posed by urbanization and climate change” and its latest creation, the Parthenon Seawall, is a floating breakwater that doubles as an energy generator, promises to do exactly that.
Waterstudio used New Yorks Hudson River to illustrate the Parthenon Seawall’s function.
As its name suggests, the Parthenon Seawall was designed to resemble the iconic temple of Athena, but despite its ancient esthetics, the structure’s columns have more to do with functionality and addressing specific needs in a modern-day urban setting. While normally breakwater structures are designed to disrupt waterflow and reduce the impact of waves, tides and currents, protecting coastlines, harbors and riverbeds from potential damage, the Parthenon Seawall goes a step – or more – further than just fighting the force of water – it lives with it and turns it into electrical power. The floating breakwater stems the crash of water pushing into a harbor, while at the same time harvesting the tremendous energy a wall of water like that can generate.
The Parthenon Seawall employs the “stacked pyramid” structure – the columns are comprised of cylinders that rotate – both clockwise and counter clockwise – at low speed, moving by the flow of water. The upper concrete platform is where the energy is stored, but Waterstudio designers suggest it can also be used as a riverfront, creating a space for greenery and recreation. Poseidon would be proud.
In many cities all over the world, millions of people live near water, in poor, densely populated neighbourhoods, exposed to rising water levels and the increased risk of flooding.
To overcome the difficulties that these inhabitants face every day, the Dutch architect Waterstudio has developed City Apps, floating urban structures made from standard maritime containers.
The idea is to use the space available on the water with urban modules, made up of several containers that can easily be moved in the event of an emergency and to meet needs. Against the backdrop of adaptation to climate change, they make up for the shortcomings of city infrastructures by offering the most disadvantaged populations function-rich spaces. Every container can become a place to eta, sleep, study, and grow vegetables… With backing from Unesco, the first City App should be installed in Dhaka, Bamgladesh, before the end of the year.
This design was done for an Amsterdam urban expansion site where one specific area was designated to have only floating houses. As with the other dwelling for this same area, limitations in the building outline were strict, forcing the design to be clear and powerful’ within these regulations. Pushing the regulations which only allowed half of the top storey to be used. This design quite literally took the complete rectangular outline of the building envelope as a frame in which transparent facades were placed. Within the frame the several functions were placed, defining where the glass paneling should be transparent or closed. The top storey still only occupies half of the floor surface, but the white frame now encloses the remaining outside terrace, visually completing the basic and almost austere volume. Within the frame, glass panels were used with several slightly different colours, adding some subtlety to the scheme.
The lower floor, which is partly beneath waterlevel. contains the bedroom, a bathroom with sauna, as well as some storage and a study-rooms. On the ground floor, where the entrance is situated, two blocks in the layout create an, entrance hallway, and close off the stairwell, leaving the rest of the surface almost completely open. The blocks contain the toilet, storage space, and kitchen equipment. The whole of the floor is used as a large living-kitchen. On the upper floor the volume containing the living-room was given a curved outline, which give a little playfulness to the otherwise I is geometric appearance.
This plan was designed for an urban water-development area in Amsterdam. Strict limitations of the building envelope and 2,5 storeys,, while maximizing effective floor space for the principal, forced the designers to, come up with a strong architectural principle that organized the dwelling with only modest means. The location at the end of the pier, where the view should be focused on the water while shielding off the dwelling from adjacent houses, provided the initial starting point. The architectural concept comprises of two basic shapes, filled in with glass panels. The main volume is enveloped by a white stucco slab that runs along the le storey floor, covers the entire back wall and roof, forming a continuous line that frames the living area and the open view. This simple yet elegant shape is complemented by a second shape in wood formed by the terrace floor and curving up to form the banister. Together, these two simple gestures define a distinct, almost iconic appearance.
On the lower floor, which is partly below waterlevel, three bedrooms and the bathroom are situated. The ground floor is largely an open layout where only the toilet and some storage space separate the entrance area from the main space. Two large swinging doors can be used to close off the hallway. A neatly designed cupboard containing television is the only main element in the open space. Behind this, two stairs lead to the lower storey and to the working-area on the top floor. The ceiling of the living room is made in the same wood as the outside shape to really carry through the concept of the two curved shapes making up the dwelling.
Drie van de vijf watervilla’s op Stadswerven liggen op hun kavels langs de oever van het Wantij.
Ze hebben een bijzonder uitzicht op de molen op de Noordendijk, bioscoop Kineopolis en natuurlijk elke dag is er een andere sfeer door de beleving van het water.
In een van de watervilla’s wordt al gewoond. Op de oever wordt ondertussen door aannemers een rij huizen afgebouwd met elk een eigen ontwerp. Een van de nieuwe panden heeft een trapgeveltje, als knipoog naar het verleden. Meerdere panden hebben op hun verdieping een terras met uitzicht op het water.
Paul Rijfkogel wil over twee weken in zijn watervilla gaan wonen. Hij is eigenaar van de middelste en de komende weken worden de laatste dingen afgewerkt. Zo moet de verwarming nog op zijn kavel worden aangesloten en moet er nog een siervloer in. ,,Het is nu een kale cementvloer.’’
De Dordtenaar heeft in zijn watervilla onder andere een slaapkamer, een logeerkamer en een werkkamer. Hij is dolgelukkig met het resultaat. Precies wat hij had gehoopt. ,,Het is super geworden, heel ruim.’’
Liggend op de kavel is nu écht duidelijk hoe de beleving van het Wantij is. Het klotsen van de golven voel je wel, weet hij inmiddels. ,,Je voelt het op als er een binnenvaartschip voorbij vaart op de rivier. Logisch, je woont op het water. Maar we kunnen het hebben, ik heb altijd een zeilboot gehad.’’
After one of the worst hurricane seasons on record, what can the U.S. learn from countries With centuries of experience managing floods?
ESSENTIAL QUESTION: Why might collaboration be important when it comes to solving large engineering problems?
Last August, Hurricane Harvey barreled into the Texas coast. In just a few days, the storm dumped more than 1.2 meters (4 feet) of rain On Houston, America’s fourth inost-populous city, and surrounding areas. It set a new record for rainfall from a single storm and led to widespread flooding. Dozens of people died. Tens of thousands had to evacuate, with many still unable to return to their flood-damaged homes. Like Hurricane Sandy, which hit the Northeast five years earlier, and Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005, Harvey demonstrated how vulnerabble U.S. coastal communities are to flooding. More than 120 million Americans—nearly 40 percent – live in a coastal county. And that, population is growing rapidly.
Scientists believe climate change could bring even more intense flooding to the U.S. Warming temperatures and shifting global climate patterns are not only raising sea levels but could also potentially cause more extreme storms. As a result., U.S. coastal communities are looking for ways to prepare for the future (see Fighting Poods Worldwide, p. 17) They’re gathering data locally and collaborating with experts around the world to identify the best strategies to keep people and essential facilities above water.
KEEPING A COUNTRY DRY
Perhaps no country on Earth has as much experience protecting against floods as the Netherlands. About a third of the small European nation’s land is below sea level—and much of that area would be underwater if not for centuries of expert engineering. “Flood protection is a huge part of our history and culture,” says Harold van Waveren, a senior adviser for the Dutch government’s flood-prevention agency. “Without it, our country wouldn’t exist.” Van Waveren lives near Amsterdam at a depth of 5 m (16 ft) below sea level in a polder—an area surrounded by walls, called dikes, that keep water out. The country has nearly 3,500 polders, protected by 40,000 kilometers (25,000 miles) of dikes and dams. Flood protections have continued to evolve since Dutch farmers built the first dikes a thousand years ago. A major storm in 1953 that flooded the southwest Netherlands and killed 1,800 people motivated the country to build the massive Delta Works. This project constructed new barriers and dams to protect against storm surges—increases in sea level due to wind and air pressure changes during storms. The project also included channels called sluices, which drain excess water during floods. The crown jewel of the Delta Works is the Maeslantkering (MANS-lau_mt-keh-ring), a giant barrier completed in 1997 that protects Rotterdam, one of the world’s busiest ports, from the sea. Ships must enter and exit the port, so building a permanent barrier that blocked the sea wouldn’t work. Instead, the government decided on a huge gate that remains open most of the time and swings shut during storms (see The Netherlands’ Giant Sea Gates, p. 15).
ROOM FOR THE RIVER
The Maeslantkering successfully held back the sea during a 2007 storm. But storm surges aren’t the Netherlands’ only flood threats: In 1995, dikes surrounding the narrow Waal River nearly failed during heavy rains, threatening the city of Nijmegen (NYE-may-ken). Some 200,000 people evacuated. “That led to a big change in our strategy,” says van Waveren. “Until then, we thought we could manage nature and have it do as we wanted. But we realized nature is sometimes stronger than we are. We had to stop fighting it and find ways to work with it.” Current flood protection strategies in the Netherlands focus on allowing nature to safely take its course during floods. Workers are restoring and protecting coastal lands like beaches, marshes, and dunes, which provide natural buffers against storms. At more than 30 sites around the country, engineers are also creating additional places where water can go. The city of Nijmegen is part of this program, which is called Room for the River. There, workers recently built an extra channel so river water can flow around the city when the level rises. Low-lying areas are being turned into parks, gardens, sports fields, and other amenities that can act as reservoirs for floodwaters in emergencies without harming people or infrastructure. Builders are also moving dikes farther from the river to create additional space for floodwaters.
BRINGING IT HOME
On the coast of Texas, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is investigating similar plans to combat storm surges. “The biggest element we’re considering is a large gate structure in the Houston-Galveston area that could be closed if a storm is coming,” says Sharon Tirpak, who is overseeing the study. One possible design resembles the Maeslantkering. “If it’s chosen, it would be one of the largest structures in the world,” she says. For storms like Harvey that dump massive amounts of rain, a sea gate would do little to stop flooding. So the Texas study is also evaluating how natural features like wetlands could help absorb heavy rains. The fact that so much of Houston is covered in concrete is one reason it flooded so badly, says Henk Ovink, the Dutch special envoy for water affairs. His job is to share Dutch expertise in flood management with countries around the world. Restoring native prairies and wetlands, which can soak up water, could help protect Texas and other areas against future floods. A team from USACE recently visited the Netherlands to tour Dutch coastal defenses. And Dutch flood engineers came to the U.S. to compare methods for evaluating the stability of levees—our version of dikes. Ovink says the challenges ahead represent an opportunity for coastal communities to come together to innovate. “In the form of rising seas and storms, water gives a tangible meaning to climate change that we have to prepare for,” he says. “But we can do this. It doesn’t have to be something we fear.” —Jennifer Barone
Besides the Netherlands, other countries and cities around the world are developing innovative approaches to prevent and adapt to floods. Here are a few.
The city is building “green alleys” made with permeable materials like special kinds of concrete and paving stones that allow water to pass through or between them instead of collecting on the surface.
FUTURE CITY: Gardens and trees line a public space. )
STORM MODE: Soil and channels help absorb and divert water.
CHINA is constructing 16 “sponge cities” that incorporate wetlands and rooftops covered with plants. The plants will soak up water, and the wetlands will store water during storms.
A new project will bring five floating shipping containers—including essential facilities like a floating classroom and a kitchen—to a flood-prone neighborhood.