Surviving The Flood
A Review of the Rotterdam Architecture Biennale

by Deena DeNaro

BigFoot Floating Stadium (Heneghan Peng Architects)

Memo to Mayor Bloomberg, Dan Doctoroff, Bruce Ratner et al: If, after all this, you still want to put a stadium in New York City, the Bigfoot Stadium is the best way to do it. Designed by Heneghan Peng Architects for the International Ideas Competition in 1997, this floating stadium is just one of the innovative urban planning solutions that were exhibited this summer in Rotterdam. The proposed stadium is situated on a naval carrier so if a team is sold to another city (most major cities are situated near ports or rivers), the new owners can take the stadium with them. A floating stadium not only shifts the building costs and infrastructure headaches from city taxpayers to sporting franchises, but can also alleviate the congestion of traffic arteries before and after the event. Taking a new twist on the tradition of the tailgate party, the stadium would follow the path of a Circle Line cruise, allowing motorists to drive aboard from various points around the five boroughs and New Jersey. Once moored at the game location (for instance a pier on the Hudson River), pedestrians and boaters can board from the waterfront. All in all, this type of stadium is a much better solution for viewing a sporting event or concert in New York City than eminent domain...

Las Palmas Warehouse (note the stairs; the Dutch do take elevation seriously)

I found this clever gem at the 2nd International Architecture Biennale in Rotterdam. So impressed was I with the exhibit design at the Nederlands Architectuur Instituut (NAi) last summer, that I came back for this event, which was partially sponsored by it. Here, a plethora of urban development and landscaping designs were amassed under the theme of The Flood. Curated by Landscape architect Adriaan Geuze of the Dutch firm, West 8, the Biennale was divided into five exhibitions—Polders, Three Bays, Water Cities, Mare Nostrum, and Flow—and structured to give an overview of how water has historically influenced the Netherlands's architectural and civil engineering traditions. It also compared these initiatives with others from around the world.

Polders Exhibit at NAi

Three Bays Exhibit; Tokyo, Venice, Amsterdam

While the Polders exhibit explores this iconic Dutch landscape element (low-lying land masses that are reclaimed from a body of water and usually protected by dikes) by considering 15 different examples within the context of five themes, the exhibit Three Bays (guest-curated by Maarten Kloos, Marino Folin and Hidenobu Jinnai), compares the simultaneous evolution of three far-flung and culturally diverse harbor cities: Tokyo, Venice and Amsterdam. By analyzing the various solutions to urban expansion in these geologically similar environments, the exhibit stresses the fact that the tradition of building on water is not exclusively Dutch. These two exhibits, along with Flow (an exhibit showcasing international proposals for the transformation of brown-spaces to green-spaces) and an exhibition of the results from a master-class in Flood-resistant housing were installed at the NAi.

The Las Palmas Pakhus (or 'warehouse'), situated on an island in the River Maast, took a hiatus from its duties as Rotterdam's largest nightclub to host the Water Cities and Mare Nostrum exhibits. The Water Cities exhibit, which was comprised of three parts, "Historical,", "International" (developments in progress), and "Utopias and the Future" (new proposals commissioned by various Dutch Ministries), offers an overview of building alongside water past, present, and future. Mare Nostrum is a timely examination of the effects of coastal tourism on developing regions, exploring the social, economic and ecological results of this burgeoning trend.

Water Cities Maquettes: Museum Gouda; Stevinsweerd; Wierdedorp Ezinge

Historical: Looking to the Past in order to inform the Future
The aim of the exhibit Water Cities, by far the most in-depth of all, is to link the Dutch tradition of building with and around water with the challenges presently facing communities worldwide. The Historical section of the exhibition illustrates how attitudes concerning water in Dutch culture have influenced a wide array of urban planning solutions. Many famous cities, like Copenhagen, Recife, and St. Petersburg were built on Dutch models and with the help of Dutch engineers. From the ingenious use of "waterlines" (strategic defense lines flooded just enough to keep soldiers, vehicles and horses from advancing, but not deep enough to allow for the passing of boats) to fortified towns with evenly spaced bastions and water-filled moats, the Dutch developed engineering feats incorporating water for trading purposes as well military purposes. The cities of Amsterdam and Batavia (present-day Jakarta) both owe their development to the mercantile activities of the Hanseatic League and the Dutch East Indies Trading Companies, respectively. As prescribed by the 16th century Dutch engineer and urban architect, Simon Stevin, each town displays features of the ideal city, which relied primarily on waterways for travel, the transportation of goods, water storage, drainage and sewage. While canalized rivers are the backbone of both Amsterdam and Jakarta, Jakarta's rectangular blocks of houses and two equal quarters, are even closer to Stevin's plans for the ideal city than the Dutch capital.

International: Reinventing Tradition
After the 17th century, the Dutch influence on water cities around the world started to wane, however, as evidenced by the numerous maquettes in the International section of Water Cities, its effects are both deep seated and well-rooted. Water Cities examines two angles of urban development. First it considers the way in which man has made dry land: how, where, when but also when not. The second aspect is how humans have profited from the mastery and manipulation of water. With precipitation levels breaking new records, while groundwater levels shrink and cause new incidences of drought and land subsidence, the need for projects that incorporate the fluid characteristics of hydrology into their solutions become paramount. "If we understand the traditions of dealing with water issues, perhaps we can derive suitable solutions to the challenges that the changing population and climate will bring in the coming years," says Adriaan Geuze in the exhibit catalogue's introductory interview.

Docklands Waterfront (Pipers, London)

From Dublin to Dubai, with Barcelona in between, urban development projects are increasingly exhibiting the inclusion of water into their plans. With the objective of reclaiming and revitalizing an industrial wasteland, Dublin city officials have composed a master plan for the revitalization of the Docklands waterfront. Drafted in 1997 and revised in 2003, this master plan promises a balance between the physical improvement of the environment with economic growth, thus propelling Dublin toward becoming a new world-class city where both visitors and locals can play, work and live.

Having the same goals in mind, Barcelona has become one of the earliest European pioneers in waterfront development. After years of neglect and unregulated growth during the Franco period, the city's urban planners launched their own revolution. Between 1979 and 1992 the focus of Barcelona's urban policy was aimed at the design of public spaces. When the city was designated to host the 1992 Summer Olympic Games, officials greeted the unique opportunity with prudence by incorporating new Olympic projects into the existing improvement plans for the urban structure. With three major endeavors: the Moll de la Fusta, the Olympic Village and the Parc del Litoral, urban planners regenerated abandoned industrial areas, refurbished transitional areas between the city center and reconnected the city to the sea. The most recent development of the last stretch of waterfront on the River Besós for the high-profile event, Forum 2004 , allowed city planners to elongate the coastline and fulfill civil engineer Ildefons Cerdá's dream of extending the Diagonal Avenue all the way to the sea.

Palm Jumeirah (Nakheel, Dubai)

Even further south in the United Arab Emirates, Dubai is aggressively exploiting water-based tourism to diversify its economic base and make up for their relatively low oil reserves. Already famous for it's radical economic free zone (the Jebel Ali) and its lucrative business and tax incentives, Dubai is in the middle of constructing three massive landfill projects called The Palms. Like Dubai itself, everything about these projects are extreme. Advertised with the outrageous claim of being visible from the moon, the first palm-shaped artificial archipelago, the Palm Jumeirah extends 5.5 km into the in the Persian Gulf. This will increase Dubai's shoreline by 120km and create a large number of residential, leisure, and entertainment areas including 1,000 unique water homes built on stilts. With the completion of the Palm Jumeira scheduled for early 2006, 10,000 people have already signed up to buy 2,400 apartments. This massive landfill project required 50 environmental and economic feasibility studies and consists of 7 million cubic meters of stone from 16 quarries and 80 million cubic meters of sand dredged from the nearby canal to the Jebel Ali Port, which is now 17 meters deeper as a result. The palm tree archipelago is not just a thematic gimmick, the shape of a long trunk and 17 huge fronds—surrounded by 12 kilometers of protective breakwater in the form of a crescent—are designed to yield the maximum amount of coastline and private beaches for its residents.

Mare Nostrum: Leisure Attractions/Leisurely Distraction
Coincidentally, it is the maquette of Dubai that marks the insertion of the Mare Nostrum exhibit into the middle of the Water Cities floor plan. This is not as abrupt an interruption as it might seem, as the Mare Nostrum exhibit addresses the issues of global development as dictated by the rise of mass tourism; a clear "wag-the-dog" case of the coastal resort town superceding the needs of the main population. With particular relevance in the wake of last year's tsunami and the controversies of the ensuing reconstruction efforts, this exhibit focuses on the coastlines of 17 different countries in temperate and sub-tropical climates that have become prime leisure destinations.

Ocean of Tawain—from NOwhere to NOWhere interactive model

Most impressive in both scope and technique (but still lacking communication skills worthy of an international exhibit) was Jou Min Lin's Ocean of Taiwan—from NOwhere to NOWhere exhibit. This intricate installation employs projected timelines and large acrylic keys with electronic sensors, which trigger CGI animations that illustrate how the various sectors of Taiwan (economic, social, governmental, environmental) have been affected by that country's exponential growth of tourism.

Snapshots from Mare Nostrum papers: Al Caribe (Supersudaca); Liquid Durban (Lindsay Bremmer)

On a simpller, more visceral level, both Al Caribe , curated by Supersudaca, a Dutch-Latin American think tank for architecture and urban research, and Liquid Durban by Dr. Lindsay Bremmer managed to stun visitors with one massive graphic each. Supersudaca, who won the award for best entry from the Biennale, presented a map of the Caribbean that traces the routes of all direct international flights, cruise ship operating lines and all-inclusive resorts. The sheer density of it is enough to send one to Antarctica for their next vacation. Dr. Bremmer simply offers us a large photo of a South African seaside resort with the time stamp "1 Jan. 05", which eerily echoes images of crowded beaches in Thailand just prior to the Christmas day tsunami in Southeast Asia.

Utopias and the Future: New Ground in Familiar Territory
While Dubai provides an innovative example of incorporating water into urban development, it also represents a tendency to build modern water cities without solving any water related issues. Thus the Future component of the Water Cities exhibit focuses primarily on ecological developments at locations and under conditions that are no longer natural, but man-made.

Kampen Floodplains (MVRDV)

Special works were commissioned for the Biennale by various Dutch ministries and municipalities in order to present national and international designers with the task of incorporating various aspects of water in their buildings, landscapes and cities. Ranging from the high-tech to the surreal, these projects enable planning authorities to break out of a black-and-white mentality by offering solutions for the uninhabitable "grey" zones in the country.

Floodplain Houses (MVRDV)

The Dutch city of Kampen is situated along the river IJssel close to the point where it flows into the Ijsselmeer lake. Thanks to MVRDV (the Dutch architectural and urban design firm) and the Dutch Ministry of transport, the problem of protecting this delicate bottleneck against a river break and providing new housing are no longer diametrically opposed. Departing from conventional, one-sided solutions like merely increasing the capacity of the river and foregoing housing altogether, or creating a channel around the area, MVRDV designed an "overflow area" about 600 meters wide. Here the lowering of the river dike along the Ijssel creates an inlet and outlet of similar width and provides a thoroughfare for floodwaters. Ecological studies project that the waters of the Ijssel will stream into the area once every 100 years and form a lake of about 5,300 hectares. The 6,000 new houses are protected against flooding by jacking them up on stilts or individual dikes, which results in a surrealistically raised landscape. This approach is not only the most economical alternative, but it is also considered a strong sustainable solution for heavy rainfall. The design for the Kampen Floodplains allows for the preservation of natural marshlands, while meeting the demands for increased dwelling and agricultural activities. Aside from drawing up the master plan for Kampen, MVRDV came up with several impressive designs for the elevated houses as well, which are not simply elevated, utilitarian four-squares, but modern curvilinear forms that offer luxurious mod-cons such as floor to ceiling windows and large private roof-top decks complete with a grand piano and hot tub.

SPONGEcity (Niall Kirkwood)

In SPONGEcity, sponsored by the Dutch Ministry of Transportation, Public Works and Water Management, and designed by Niall Kirkwood of the Harvard Graduate School of Design, floodwaters are captured by a dual sponge system both soft and structural. Elbows, or man-made oxbows, are built along the river Waal expanding the floodplain. Within each floodplain, canals are dug out to hold some of the floodwater. Cellular networks of Super Absorbent Polymers (SAP's) are placed in these elbows and when the dikes close to the river are breached a new absorbent sponge landscape is created along the entire river. The sponges create a dramatic new terrain as they swell to a height of up to 20 meters. This sponge matrix radically re-imagines the traditional Dutch city by proposing a hybrid structure that contains water and constructs space for urbanization. Capable of holding 100 times its own weight in water, the structural sponge is realized by adding a hardening agent to the SAP, which creates a shell on the surface for development. The soft sponge is a fluctuating system of undulating hills that rise and fall according to seasonal floods. As mean water levels rise, soft sponge is converted to structural sponge and a new band of soft sponge is established on the periphery. The overall sponge matrix allows development to exist within a floodplain. The urban conditions benefit from the framework of sponge elbows by structuring newfound ground within the floodplain.

Back at the NAi
Each day I would take a water taxi to the Las Palmas location from my home base, the Maritime Hotel. Unbeknownst to me, the Maritime was not just a hotel as advertised on their website, but also the Zeemands Hus, a pension garni for wayward sailors. As this place was steeped in even more nautical traditions, staying here provided for total immersion into the culture of water. Overall I spent three of my five days at the Las Palmas location visiting the Water Cities exhibit. Water Cities was so dense that on the last day of my trip I had still not seen the exhibit Flow or the results of the Master Class on flood-resistant housing. But on my last day, right after breakfast at the Zeemands Hus, I followed the stream of stenciled logos on the sidewalk that marked the path between Las Palmas and the NAi where Flood exhibits were also housed.   While I'd been to the NAi the first day for the Three Bays and Polders exhibits, I had missed Flow because it was tucked away on the third floor. No need to worry now though, as my eyes were feasting on the most interesting work from up-and-coming designers and students from around the world. It was here where the most aesthetic and experimental work was on display.   For all the impressive and intricate maquettes over at Las Palmas , the biennale would have benefited from either more experimental works like this, or at the very least, a more prominent placement of them.

Wave Garden (Yusuke Obushi)

I had already seen the delicate and lyrical Wave Garden by Yusuke Obushi before at the Cooper-Hewitt Design Triennial, but here the lighting and installation of this gigantic membrane was so much more graceful. Wave Garden is meant to sit on the surface of the ocean and, by employment of the "piezo principle", convert motion into electricity. Equally appealing was the lush graphic quality of Netted Dunes and IMAGEbuilding. Netted Dunes by Ilaria Dicarlo once again incorporates a membrane to exploit motion, only this time the surface is a woven system of cables and that harness wind power, which in turn will be used for the desalination of freshwater in Braunton Burrows, the largest expanse of sand dunes in England. Here in summer, freshwater is always in short supply. This symbiotic cycle provides both freshwater and drainage for the vegetation that stabilizes the dunes, while also offering an organized structure for touristic exploration. The third impressive selection in the Flow exhibit was IMAGEbuilding. With references to decorative details of Holland's Golden Age, IMAGEbuilding by Jarrik Oudburg and Serge Schoemaker is a plan for 38 massive reservoirs that gives the Dutch polder a glamorous new makeover (regardless of whether it's seen from the ground or the sky) while allowing for human recreation in the spaces resulting from this new type of reservoir structure.

Netted Dunes (Ilaria Dicarlo)

Master Class: From Resistance to Integration
The master class was organized in collaboration between the Rotterdam Academy of Architecture and the Berlage Institute. Santa Monica based architect Greg Lynn guided 60 architecture students and young architects from all over the world in a one-week workshop specifically focused on finding new ways for building houses in the flood-prone areas of the city of Deventer. Floating the Hull designed by Shizue Karasawa, Lieke Genten, and Hunter Knight, addresses the issues of housing on the floodplain by employing umbilical structures and a responsive tectonic borrowed from the concepts of ship building techniques.

Floating the Hull (Shizue Karasawa, Lieke Genten, Hunter Knight)

The wining project of the IABR student award, the Oyster composed of a molded landscape of a-centric rings, which mimic flood lakes. The home acts much like an oyster allowing water to penetrate its fortress for survival and nutrition, while protecting its precious center. The six-person jury awarded the prize to the group of four students—Karola Dierichs (Architectural Association, London), John Doyle (RMIT, Australia), Teresa Nai-Tsuei Yeh and Naiwen Cheng (both from the Berlage Institute, Rotterdam, the Netherlands)—for creating an alternative lifestyle through the innovative building forms. The project not only integrated landscape and architecture, but also made infrastructure an integral part of the project.

The Oyster (John Doyle, Teresa Nai-Tsuei Yeh, Naiwen Cheng, Karola Diericus)

Even though it's been almost one month after returning from the Biennale in Rotterdam, I am still processing all this information from such an abundant and teeming exhibit.

Now that my visiting father has returned to Florida exactly as has hurricane season comes in like a lion, the questions that Adriaan Geuze sought to raise with the Flood still resonate in my mind: How can water policy be a pretext to urban planning? Do you simply solve the immediate problem or do you try to get something extra for your money? How can we combine investment in the city with investment in the water agenda to make the most of resources of on all fronts? Each evening after summer school, the pent up heat and humidity propel me on bike rides to the DUMBO waterfront. Save for the upscale River Café, the surrounding businesses and docks look deserted and disconnected from the vibrant hub across the river. The breeze is nice, but I feel stranded as I notice that the last ferry to service this place left almost 3 hours before rush began. Like "Old Frisco", I am clobbered by a bout of Kerouac's "end of land sadness". I think back to cooler days in Rotterdam and how such a deep infusion of water lightened my everyday existence. From the water taxis at the riverfront to the dikes of historic Delfts Haven, to the green spaces along the canals where one catches the city trams, it is evident that Rotterdam's appeal is due in large part to the fact that city planners capitalize on the benefits of water in almost every aspect of public life. I look around at my own environment and I realize that at right now we are wasting quite a lot.

View of Hotel New York, from Las Palmas

More Info
The 2nd International Architecture Biennale ran from May 26 th until June 26th, the exhibitions Flow', 'Three Bays' and 'Polders, a theatre of land and water' can still be visited in the Netherlands Architecture Institute until August 4th (Flow) and September 4th (Three Bays and Polders).

Having grown up in Las Vegas, Deena Denaro keeps seeking out hot spots in cold climates. Previous homes include Copehagen, Reykjavik, London and Durham, North Carolina. Previous careers include music video director, lighting designer, live broadcasting and VJ-ing for clients as diverse as the Chemical Brothers, DJ Spooky to Roskilde Festival and the NC School of Science and Mathematics. When she realized that she could guess the period style of every film she was working on, she knew it was time to turn her attention to design. She is currently working on her BID at Pratt. Deena can be reached at .