"History and Renovation of Dutch Water
Water control has been required for urban planning of Holland. The
power technology for water control has been changed with times. I will
explain the lineage of water city design in the following 6 parts,
according to the power technology.
(1) Natural water management ( 〜1000): Accepting Nature
The early landscape of Holland was wetland. During this period without
water control, soil erosion caused by water often transformed the shape
of land. People built drainage channel by human power, drain the land
dry, and developed polder (reclaimed land).
Because of these characteristics of landscape, early settlements were
built on higher land instead of lower surrounding area. Small communities
were formed in solid hill of sand built on the wetland, and in dunes
more solid than surrounding wetland along seashore or riversides.
(2) Defensive water management (1000〜1500): Opening up and Protect
Since 1000, inhabitants established their own territories, dykes and
canals to protect against or open up nature. At that time, human power
was the main measure for land reclamation. The base of such reclaimed
land was shaped according to the water power rules. These reclaimed
lands were used for agricultural purposes. In later days when these
lands were urbanized, the original patterns were followed in most cases.
Most cities were protected by dykes along waterfront. However, following
two types of water cities were shaped by their surrounding environments.
One is a dyke city built on dykes; the other is a dam city constructed
along with a dam. Other types included the city built around the acropolis
on a low hill（ブルフトシティ）.
(3) Offensive water management (1500〜1814): Building a New Waterfront
The main power at that time was windmills. Water discharge was powered
by windmills instead of human power. The change of power transformed
large lakes into vast lands. Kinderdijk, located in the suburbs of
Rotterdam, and named to the UNESCO list of world heritage, presents
landscapes lined with windmills. At the time, lined windmills made
water flow from one windmill to next. The pumped water resulted large
amounts of water drainage over a short period of time compared to human
The fortress cities as typified by Willemstad, appeared in this period.
The invention of explosive accelerated the construction of fortress
Generally, water cities in Holland were built on low lands during this
period, different from the cities since the Middle Ages, formed mainly
on high lands and near dykes. In those cities, bridges linked dotted
lands crisscrossed by canals for drainage; so-called polder city appeared.
The urban space of polder city was composed of windmills for the drainage
system, canals, and bridges.
The thought for urban design flourished; Simon Stephin generated the
idea of ideal city in Holland at this period. Major social facilities
such as churches and city halls were arranged along the largest city
square. The residents of rich citizens lined along canals, and the
houses of common people were located at the back. The above urban structure,
generated by Stephin was called "Dutch Renaissance", because
it was a monumental design based on rational order. However, urban
space of Holland was different from other European cities. Because
urban life of Dutchmen was based on equitable society, the budget for
realizing monumental urban design like Paris, was almost impossible.
On the other hand, the mentality of Dutchmen has comprised of defense
In Holland, the scale for urban design must be suited for water control.
In fact, considering water control leads to the idea of Dutch waterfront
cities. The resulting urban spaces linked water, roads, and buildings
together. The waterway divided spatial areas at the time and the tax
was introduced based on lot width.
(4) Early Manipulative water management (1814〜1886): Trying to Manipulate
The steam engine appeared, and it brought major changes in water control
as well as land formation; the construction of large reclaimed land
In 1854, the "water project" plan was implemented in Rotterdam.
By constructing two canals in the outside of old city of Rotterdam,
the plan aimed to achieve four goals:
(1) Cleaning up the sewage within the city by flowing water; (2) Bringing
groundwater level down for construction plan; (3) Constructing sidewalks
along parks; (4) Providing residential blocks for rich citizens. At
the result, rich people lived along the newly built canals, while smaller
houses were lined at the back. Small houses for poor citizens can be
accessed by narrow alleyways between buildings along the canal. Spatial
and social differences along canals as described above can be found
Waterways, developed for collecting water at the time of rise of river,
still serve their roles.
(5) Manipulative water management (1886〜1990): Manipulation
Waterways began to be reclaimed because of automobiles, as well as
the development of groundwater system. Water was going through hard
times because automobiles were the enemy of water. In major cities
in Holland like Amsterdam and Rotterdam, a part of canals within the
city was reclaimed for land transportation.
Furthermore, originalities of each place were ignored during the progress
of urbanization. In such urban spaces, the existence of waterways lost
its original meanings. For example, the plan for Southern district
of Amsterdam made by Dutch architect, Berlage in 1917, emphasized the
importance of roads. Buildings were arranged based on main roads as
axes. This layout conflicted with urban planning of the 17th century,
where water, roads and buildings were integrated.
Not only in Amsterdam, but also in other waterfront cities within Holland,
waterways lost their original meanings, while buildings were constructed
based on roads as axes.
At the same time, instead of traditional city block patterns with lined
houses along roads, free spatial layouts were frequently proposed.
Such plans neglected the urban development based on originalities of
the place, such as polder. Priority was given to road structure, and
in some cases, layout of roads was determined according to the directional
axes toward towers dotted in the suburban areas.
The waterways which lost its importance was not emphasized in urban
planning, and now handled in connection with groundwater. Instead of
integral planning or construction of urban components (water, roads,
and buildings), each space was independently formed without considering
the shape of lot. Thus, strong consciousness to water was rapidly decreased.
On the other hand, decorative use of water was planned and realized
in the urban space.
(6) Adaptive Manipulative Water Management (1990〜)： Understanding and
Manipulating Surrounding Environments
After the hard times for water, the importance of water for urban amenity
was finally recognized in the 1970's, resulting to water-aware urban
space planning. However, in the 1980's, economic depression interfered
the construction of rich waterfront spaces. Therefore, cheep and maintenance-free
materials such as concrete were used for waterfront spaces.
On the other hand, waterfront spaces such as rivers, ocean, and polder
faced different problems and challenges. One of the causes was flood
(rise of rivers). Rise of see-level and the Line River caused by global
warming, heavy rains, and rise of groundwater level, posed a risk of
The balance between rainfalls and water evaporation made the maintenance
of dykes difficult during some parts of year. For example, from the
end of March and to the beginning of July, dykes become fragile because
of drying. From the beginning of July to the middle of September, too
much moisture loosens dykes. Therefore, the dykes carry risk of break
in the above parts of year.
The seacoast areas are confronted by problems of the elevation of sea-level
and bank rip; polder areas suffered from rise of the river because
of heavy rain; and riverside areas are fraught with rise of river and
In the next place, I will summarize the challenges for waterfront space:
Cities and ocean
Revitalization of historical waterways
Ensuring new urban spaces
Reorganization of areas built in postwar days
Providing spaces for collecting water in newly built areas
Floating urban development
Cities and rivers
Reorganization of port areas
In Den Haag, protection program for the dune along the ocean, was proposed
in the 1980's based on 15-year plan.
For Scheveningen near Den Haag, the construction of seaside streets
was proposed in 2005.
The construction of reclaimed island along the coast for regulating
drift of the tide was also proposed, to prevent water flowing into
In the waterfront cities such as Utrecht and Breda, historical waterways
which traditionally was in port area, will be renovated and utilized
for urban revitalization.
One of other plans proposed that land will be reclaimed for new urban
spaces. One of the examples was Ijburg district planned by Amsterdam
City. The district was designed based on water. Canals flowing through
the district were used for drainage. High-rise and low-rise residences
were built depending on the site. New ideas have been introduced into
waterfront designs aiming to provide setting for life with water.
In some districts of Haarlem and Delft built after war, are confronted
with problems of scarcity of waterfront spaces; the reorganization
of such post-war areas was required. The underground pipes were no
more suited for drainage because the risk of flood should be taken
into consideration. Therefore, changeover from pipes to waterways was
proposed. The appearance of such waterways was effective because new
spatial characteristics were added to these areas.
One of the examples of spaces for collecting water in the newly built
areas, is "Ring City": a large-scale network plan for collecting
water. This plan by H+N+S Landscape Architecture Office proposed large-scale
water circulation system for Randstad in the Western Holland, and the
linkage between routes for recreation and historical core.
At micro-level, buildings were designed to use rainwater for cooling.
Also, the way of considering water in Vinex should be worth noted.
Different types of houses were built along many waterways within the
region. In the district near Den Haag, existing air strips, replaced
by waterways, has now become a core public spaces. Various types of
houses were planned and built.
In major cities of Holland, different water usages were adopted. In
Rotterdam, for example, an underground park was built in a manner that
can be diverted into space for collecting water. The engineering work
for conversion is in process.
The concept of floating city should also be noted. The fear of flood
is instilled in Dutchmen. At the same time, they feel closeness and
familiarities to water and some of them wish to live near water.
For reorganization purposes, port areas and old buildings will be utilized
for the construction of new residential district. River banks can be
transformed into suitable sites for public spaces.
A landscape design office, West 8 made a revitalization plan for Borneo
Sporenburg, which was originally a port area. Based on the master plan,
redevelopment has been promoted. They drew the idea from the traditional
Dutch urban spaces, where large-scale architecture (such as a church)
among concentrated city blocks, presenting the scale gap within the
urban space; the difference of spatial scale was applied for Borneo
Sporenburg. Three large-scale buildings, laid out in the concentrated
district, reorganized the place into new and familiar space.
One of the major problems in the relationship between cities and rivers,
is that urbanization of waterfront will trigger flood around riversides.
In Venlo, one of the waterfront cities in Holland, the research shows
that 60-times water stream than usual flow volume might cause flood
in the surrounding areas. Therefore, unused warehouses along the river
have been diverted into the green space for collecting water at the
time of rise of river. At the same time, open and comfortable river
side spaces have been made. Moreover, the idea to take the variation
of river level into the spatial design was introduced, which shows
positive reception of water for effective usage for urban design.
1 Dutch Waterfront Cities]
Ideal City by Simon Stephin]
3 Rotterdam Water Project]
4 Ring City]
[Fig. 5 Design
for Water Level Variation]