That “Urban by Nature”, the theme of this Architecture Biennale, is popular is proven by the large turnout of the opening conference in the Kunsthal Rotterdam. Although that may also be because most people are free at Ascension day. The large room literally flowed over from the people, which ironically refers to the explosive growth of the city and water flooding due to climate change. That is exactly what this conference is about: how do we design resilient, secure and vibrant cities in times of climate change?
Pictures are taken by the author himself.
“This is your ascension movie’ starts curator Henk Ovink. It is not just a movie, but a tightly scheduled morning of inspirational speakers. Ten speakers offer from their own perspective, ideas and solutions to the problems of climate change (floods, drought, heat stress and increased rainfall). Climate change is serious, almost all speakers show pictures how vast parts of large cities are flooded, as happens for example in Jakarta in the rainy season.
The symposium is opened by Steven L. Stockton (Civil Works (USACE)). He and Nanco Dolman (Royal Haskoning, DHV), stress that we have to be prepared before climate change overtakes us. For that, we have three strategies. The first is the assessment of technical solutions, such as the improvement of the dike. The second is design with nature, of “giving it space”, for a better resilience. The third is the improvement of the awareness of the risks and the setup of an evacuation plan. Nanco Dolman tells we have three options to handle this: mitigation, adaption, or doing nothing and suffering. Let us change, he stresses, because we have a lot of possibilities! On the basis of an example in New York he shows four methods: withstand the water, slowing down, storing and draining.
Adriaan Geuze, form West 8 and teacher Landscape Architecture at the University of Wageningen, with his team comes up with an original approach. Dunes along the coast are, according to calculations, expected to reduce floodings and the threat of a hurricane with 80% He tells with a funny metaphor that you’d better sleep with the devil than working against him. So you have to work with nature, by letting the incoming water, with small adaptations, go in the right direction, instead of building enormous dikes. Because, he argues, “what good is designing something beautiful when it will flood in the future?”.
Kellie Terry-Sepulveda (from New York’s The Point Community Development Corporation) shows more of the opportunities that lie with the people themselves. She inspires people from disadvantaged neighborhoods with projects. Precisely those neighborhoods are located in sensitive areas. She talks about the huge gap between rich and poor. Let us transform old industrial areas into art galleries and food markets. Let’s build a resilient, integrated system for a socially, environmentally and economically friendly zone, withstanding the flooding problem. What we need is long-term sustainable partnership. It is important to integrate different stakeholders, to invest in young leaders. Design is always a matter of people!
The other speakers include amongst others Florian Boer (De Urbanisten), Lodewijk van Nieuwenhuize (H + N + S). These engineers, architects and urban planners are using illustrative images to come with ideas, solutions and methods of how to deal with climate change. Often functionality with beauty and recreation are intertwined here. For example, by expanding a coastal or river zone with nature so that the dynamics of the water are given space to flood. At the same time, this natural area is (in good times) an ultimate place to bike through and enjoy the nature.
The message is clear. The question is not whether there are solutions – there are plenty – but the question is what is the best strategy for which place is and how we can implement this. This creates simultaneously a cultural change. It is agreed that the dominant engineering is only part of the solutions, or may even worsen the situation as in the channeling of the river. Climate change, the city and designing with nature is a new trend, it is also a sustainable trend. The opening of the theme provides plenty to discuss. In the end, the Dutch already have a rich history with the struggle against the water tells David van Zelm. Although I am temporarily in Mozambique to view the practice, I look forward to the next lectures that are promising in this exciting time.
‘Urban by Nature’, the sixth edition of the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam, lasts until Augustus 24, 2014 and is amongst others to be seen at the Kunsthal and the Natuurhistorisch Museum Rotterdam. For the program see: www.iabr.nl.