»I hate vacations. If you can build buildings, why sit on the beach?«

Philip Johnson

Blog Building of the Week

Flood Tactics

Water Square in Rotterdam by de Urbanisten

  • Looks like rain? The Water Square in Rotterdam, designed by De Urbanisten. (Photo © Pallesh+Azarfane) 1 / 17  Looks like rain? The Water Square in Rotterdam, designed by De Urbanisten. (Photo © Pallesh+Azarfane)
  • The square lies close to the Central Station and is tucked between some large-scale high school buildings designed by Dutch architect Hugh Maaskant in the 60s. (Photo © Ossip van Duivenbode) 2 / 17  The square lies close to the Central Station and is tucked between some large-scale high school buildings designed by Dutch architect Hugh Maaskant in the 60s. (Photo © Ossip van Duivenbode)
  • The square's design was developed and tailored for its use by students from the surrounding schools. Here some out-door teaching taking place. (Photo © De Urbanisten) 3 / 17  The square's design was developed and tailored for its use by students from the surrounding schools. Here some out-door teaching taking place. (Photo © De Urbanisten)
  • The square is the first realisation of an idea of expressing water storage as a design feature, which De Urbanisten developed seven years ago. (Photo © Pallesh+Azarfane) 4 / 17  The square is the first realisation of an idea of expressing water storage as a design feature, which De Urbanisten developed seven years ago. (Photo © Pallesh+Azarfane)
  • The design consists of three concrete basins, painted in various shades of blue in a pattern vaguely resembling the Isobars on weather maps. (Photo © Pallesh+Azarfane) 5 / 17  The design consists of three concrete basins, painted in various shades of blue in a pattern vaguely resembling the Isobars on weather maps. (Photo © Pallesh+Azarfane)
  • Just step on over: the stainless steel zigzag gutters... (Photo © De Urbanisten) 6 / 17  Just step on over: the stainless steel zigzag gutters... (Photo © De Urbanisten)
  • ...integrated into the surface of the square. (Photo © De Urbanisten) 7 / 17  ...integrated into the surface of the square. (Photo © De Urbanisten)
  • In dry weather, each basin has a different function: one features a little island which can serve as a “dancing stage” – or just for sitting in the sun... (Photo © De Urbanisten) 8 / 17  In dry weather, each basin has a different function: one features a little island which can serve as a “dancing stage” – or just for sitting in the sun... (Photo © De Urbanisten)
  • ...the other has slanting walls and can be used as a skatebowl. (Photo © De Urbanisten) 9 / 17  ...the other has slanting walls and can be used as a skatebowl. (Photo © De Urbanisten)
  • The largest basin is a football and basketball field with grandstand. (Photo © De Urbanisten) 10 / 17  The largest basin is a football and basketball field with grandstand. (Photo © De Urbanisten)
  • When it rains for a long time, run-off from one of the main school roofs and from further afield, floods the largest “sports field” basin. (Photo © De Urbanisten) 11 / 17  When it rains for a long time, run-off from one of the main school roofs and from further afield, floods the largest “sports field” basin. (Photo © De Urbanisten)
  • The Water Square envisioned during stormy weather. (Image © De Urbanisten) 12 / 17  The Water Square envisioned during stormy weather. (Image © De Urbanisten)
  • Plan, showing activities envisioned for the square. (Image © De Urbanisten) 13 / 17  Plan, showing activities envisioned for the square. (Image © De Urbanisten)
  • Plans showing water run-off from the southern end of the square... (Image © De Urbanisten) 14 / 17  Plans showing water run-off from the southern end of the square... (Image © De Urbanisten)
  • ...its northern end...  (Image © De Urbanisten) 15 / 17  ...its northern end...  (Image © De Urbanisten)
  • ... and the north-eastern end, each to a different basin. (Image © De Urbanisten) 16 / 17  ... and the north-eastern end, each to a different basin. (Image © De Urbanisten)
  • Waiting for the flood... (Photo © Pallesh+Azarfane) 17 / 17  Waiting for the flood... (Photo © Pallesh+Azarfane)

The problem in Rotterdam unlike many cities, is not a scarcity of water, but an excess. Dealing with this has of course always been a Dutch speciality and Anneke Bokern visits a new public square that makes a virtue out of too much water.

Besides cheese, pot, and tulips, the Netherlands are mostly known for having an excess of water – and for finding solutions to deal with this. In fact, this focus of interest has changed over the last 1,000 years or so, from fighting against the sea to fighting against both rising sea levels and heavy rain: due to climate change, precipitation in the country increased by 25 per cent between 1910 and 2009. So what to do with all this water in a densely populated country, which can hardly keep its feet dry without great technical effort?

Just step on over: the stainless steel zigzag gutters... (Photo © De Urbanisten)

One answer is provided by the Water Square project in Rotterdam, designed by De Urbanisten. Rotterdam is particularly affected by increasing rainfall, because the city doesn't have a system of canals like Amsterdam, and has a large percentage of sealed surface area which lies partly below sea level. So water comes from all sides in Rotterdam: from the sea, the river, the ground and the sky. Canals and canalisation can't cope with the mass of water anymore, so in some areas basements and streets are regularly inundated.

In dry weather, each basin has a different function: one features a little island which can serve as a “dancing stage” – or just for sitting in the sun... (Photo © De Urbanisten)

At the same time, though, Rotterdam has a whole lot of leftover urban public space in need of an upgrade. Benthemplein used to be such a space. The square lies close to the Central Station, hidden between some large-scale high school buildings designed by Dutch architect Hugh Maaskant in the 60s. Most famous among fans of post-war modernism is the Akraton highrise, an eye-catching stack of gym halls on the southeast corner of the square. Until recently, Benthemplein was only furnished with a few sad plant pots and two rows of trees. Because it was in desperate need of a makeover and is mainly used by the teenage students from the surrounding schools, De Urbanisten chose Benthemplein for the very first realisation of an idea which they had developed seven years ago: why hide expensive, but inevitable rain water storage underground? Can't it double as a design element and become part of public space?

When it rains for a long time, run-off from one of the main school roofs and from further afield, floods the largest “sports field” basin. (Photo © De Urbanisten)

The municipality liked the idea and gave De Urbanisten the go ahead for a pilot project. As a start, the architects organised workshops with representatives of the municipality, teachers, students and other neighbours and stakeholders, during which the functional areas of the square were defined and the design concept was developed. It consists of three concrete basins, painted in various shades of blue in a pattern vaguely resembling the isobars on weather maps. Open stainless-steel zigzag gutters and slim light strips are integrated into the ground of the square. In dry weather, each basin has a different function: one features a little island which serves as a “dancing stage”, the other has slanting walls and can be used as a skatebowl. The largest basin is a football and basketball field with grandstand. Short cloudbursts only fill the two smaller basins with rainwater run-off from the surrounding roofs and an adjoining parking lot. But when it rains for a longer time, further run-off from one of the main school roofs and from further afield, floods the largest “sports field” basin. The water is filtered before entering the square, where it flows out of sculptural waterspouts and runs towards the basins along the gutters, taking many deliberate detours across the square to increase its visibility. In the sports field basin, it gushes from a slit in the wall, which is hidden behind a big steel plate (preventing kids from stuffing rubbish into it). When the rain stops, the water is retained in the basins for 48 hours, before being drained directly into the ground or pumped into nearby Noordsingel canal.

Benthemplein is a prime example of how to make a virtue out of necessity in a very Dutch way. The formerly neglected square has been upgraded while at the same time the tedious task of water management has been turned into a fun element in the design of the public space. The result isn't acosy, pretty square, of course. It's a rough and gritty and doesn't reveal its richness at first sight. Just like Rotterdam.

– Anneke Bokern is an architecture journalist. Living in the Netherlands since 2000, she writes on Dutch architecture, art, and design for German and international publications.

 

Animation of the Water Square project. ( © Studio Analoog)

  • Facebook
  • Tumblr
  • Twitter

Advertisement

RECENT POSTS

more

Recent Magazines

25 Apr 2016

Magazine No. 43
Athens

  • essay

    From the Bottom and the Top

    Powering Athens through collectivity and informal initiatives by Cristina Ampatzidou

  • photo essay

    Nowhere Now Here

    A photo essay by Yiorgis Yerolymbos

  • Essay

    Back to the Garden

    Athens and opportunities for new urban strategies by Aristide Antonas

  • Interview

    Point Supreme

    An interview by Ellie Stathaki

>

03 Mar 2016

Magazine No. 42
Walk the Line

  • Essay

    The Line Connects

    An essay on drawing and architectural education by Wes Jones

  • Essay

    Drawing Attention

    Phineas Harper sketches out new narrative paths with pencil power

  • Essay

    Gotham

    Elvia Wilk on a city of shadows as architectural fiction

  • Interview

    The (Not So) Fine Line

    A conversation thread between Sophie Lovell and architecture cartoonist Klaus

>

28 Jan 2016

Magazine No. 41
Zvi Hecker

  • essay

    Space Packers

    Zvi Hecker’s career-defining partnership with Eldar Sharon and Alfred Neumann by Rafi Segal

  • Interview

    Essentially I am a Medieval Architect

    An interview with Zvi Hecker by Vladimir Belogolovsky

  • viewpoint

    The Technion Affair

    Breaking and entering in the name of architectural integrity by Zvi Hecker

  • Photo Essay

    Revisiting Yesterday’s Future

    A photo essay by Gili Merin

>

17 Dec 2015

Magazine No. 40
Iceland

  • Viewpoint

    Wish You Were Here

    Arna Mathiesen asks: Refinancing Iceland with tourism – but at what cost?

  • Photo Essay

    Spaces Create Bodies, Bodies Create Space

    An essay by Ólafur Elíasson

  • Focus

    Icelandic Domestic

    Focus on post-independence houses by George Kafka

  • Essay

    The Harp That Sang

    The saga of Reykjavík's Concert Hall by Sophie Lovell & Fiona Shipwright

>

more

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR MAILING LIST Close

Uncube is brandnew and wants to look good.
For best performance please update your browser.
Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer 10 (or higher), Safari, Chrome, Opera

×