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Thinking Like the Dutch

  • Posted by SHFT on April 14, 2014 in Design
  • To understand water management, there is no better country to learn from than Holland. The famously waterlogged nation has a system of dikes, dams and windmills that dates back to the Middle Ages, and it’s also where you’ll find the most innovative thinking about coast management today. 

    So when Shaun Donovan, Obama’s housing secretary, was selected to head up  the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, he turned to the Netherlands for guidance. In December 2012 he met with Henk Ovink, the Dutch head of water management, who has since been hired as one of Donovan’s senior advisors. Ovink is the man responsible for Rebuild by Design, a competition for coastal resilience projects in areas affected by Sandy, offering winners a slice of the federal government’s $4 billion disaster-recovery pie.

    From NYT Mag:

    Some 148 teams made up of experts in a variety of disciplines — architecture, urban design, engineering, ecology, communications — put forward ideas for rethinking development in the areas affected by Sandy. An innovative aspect of the competition was that the teams did not present actual projects to be judged. To do that would be to design with past crises in mind, which is too stiff an approach, given the uncertainties of climate change. 

    The competition is being driven by new approach to coast management, one that works with nature instead of trying to control it. Unsurprisingly, it’s an approach that emanates from Dutch thinking. 

    In Nijmegen, a Dutch city at the edge of the flood-prone Waal River, a wide-ranging water management plan called Room for the River exemplifies the thinking. It involves cutting wide trench through the city where the river bottlenecks, creating an island with parks and beaches on the lower sections that will simply be engulfed by water in the case of a flood. 

    The Rebuild by Design submissions were revealed last week, and the design-by-committee approach yielded some innovative ideas. One team proposes ringing the coast with an archipelago of artificial barrier islands. Another envisions a boardwalk that meshes with the dunes rather than floating above them. Several suggest creating absorbent parks to catch and release floodwaters.

    What the diverse schemes share is acknowledgement of a changing climate -- and inspiration from innovative Dutch thinking.

    Images from plans in the Rebuild by Design competition:

    1. A development concept for Hoboken, which includes barriers, pumps and a belt of parkland to soak up water (plan by the OMA team)

    2. Barrier islands would help protect against storm surges (plan by the WXY/West 8 team).


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