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LOLA promotes the appeal of Dutch dikes

Article by Arjen Venema.

The book ‘Dutch Dikes’ by LOLA landscape architects has already been in the book stores for a month now, and the Dutch version of the book already sold out. Nonetheless, the official book launch was this Monday the 26th at the large room of Pakhuis de Zwijger, Amsterdam. LOLA, Eric Luiten and Henk Ovink spoke about dike typologies, new dikes and water-defence icons. TOPOS online made a summary of the evening for the ones who missed it.

The most interesting stories of the evening were the ones by LOLA itself and by Eric Luiten. Eric-Jan Pleijster and Cees van der Veeken (LOLA) told about their book ‘Dutch Dikes’, in which they describe the complete Dutch dike system, their history, and their types. Why did they make it? One of the reasons was to give the big public a comprehensive overview of the system to which half of the Netherlands owes its existence. As Henk Ovink said later on in the evening, the Dutch water defence system is considered very good by the OESO, but the awareness of the Dutch population that most of them live in a precarious situation is considered very low. And how can you even start to care about maintaining or changing dikes if you don’t even know about them?

The most important thing LOLA do in their book is the description of 40+ dike typologies. All dikes are different, but we have to make archetypes to give practical examples for what to do if you are a designer that is dealing with a dike, Eric Jan-Pleijster said. Schaardijk, schierdijk, schordijk, they all share the same archetype, the same typology: a winter dike without floodplain. The question is of course: what to do with these typologies as designers? Should we blindly apply them when confronted with a specific landscape type, because some of them just belong to that landscape? Or should we try to come up with new versions of these typologies? Unfortunately, Pleijster and Van der Veeken didn’t speak a lot about their approach in designing dike landscapes.

Eric-Jan Pleijster and Cees van der Veeken talking about their book

This discussion about the design of dikes was started by Eric Luiten, Government Advisor Landscape and Water, who told an interesting story about the different design approaches several landscape designers had while designing new dikes. Dikes are not only to defend us from the water, they are also the Dutch Mountains: they have ecological values, aesthetic values, heritage values. Because of that, dikes shouldn’t only be constructed, they should be integrally designed, Luiten said. Take for example the good old Afsluitdijk, which is actually a dam. If you make one alteration in the height or slope of the dam to make it stronger, you change the characteristics of the dam for 30 kilometres, which has a strong aesthetic impact. Luiten showed new designs made for the adaptation of the Afsluitdijk (by Feddes & Olthof) and the Diefdijk at the Linge (by Kees v/d Velde) where technical and aesthetic knowledge went together very well. Maybe all landscape architects should learn to design a proper dike if they want to be acknowledged by civil engineers, the government and ecologists?

One of the last speakers was Henk Ovink of the Rebuild by Design team, who talked about awareness and the new Delta program. Ovink went to the US to export knowledge about the Dutch water defence system. His observation was that the icons of Dutch dike building and coastal defence (Aflsuitdijk, Oosterscheldekering) that we love to talk about to foreigners are already outdated because of severe ecological problems and sea level rise. What will be our next icons? Maybe the ones that do take into account ecology, heritage and aesthetic aspects. Minister Schultz wisely didn’t answer this question with her program of a retreating government out of the spatial domain.

Henk Ovink talking about the Dutch approach in water management

However, according to Ovink, in a couple of years we’ll have a shortage of 10.000 professionals (engineers, architects, hydrologists, etc.) that are supp osed to keep our feet dry in 2050. In other words, if you are an aspiring landscape architect that has a fear of unemployment: become a good dike architect, because there’s plenty of work to be done. Thank you dikes, we exist because of you.

Our book review of Dutch Dikes will be published in the next couple of weeks.

Januari 27, 2015

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