Workshop ‘Living with water’


Since the effects of climate change – such as rising sea levels and extreme rainfall – are occurring globally, water management is no longer an exclusive Dutch topic. Worldwide, designers are searching for ways to safeguard against flooding. During a three-day workshop in Aalborg (Denmark) master students of TU Delft and Aalborg University joined forces to combine water safety and quality of living. It led to innovative, unusual designs.

From the introduction of the workshop, it immediately became clear that water management should be better integrated into Danish residential design. Aalborg – a medium sized town in the north of Jutland – has a nice waterfront that is experiencing rapid development. Historically, a number of small rivers flow from the hills around Aalborg into the fjord. At periods of extreme rainfall these rivers rapidly increase in size and the water level rises meters at a time.

This has led the municipality to not allow housing in areas less than 2.5 meters above sea level. As a result, Aalborg is left with a substantial amount of well-located, but unused land. One of these areas is a beautiful former industrial site just outside the old city centre. Between old factory buildings lies an open green area with two small rivers and a lake. The rivers drain rainwater from the hills towards the city centre. The students were asked to design a residential area where residents, regardless of the water level, live in a safe and enjoyable environment which also provides water storage capacity during extreme rainfall.

Designing for different conditions.

In the first design sketches students focused on the question of how the individual home can be protected against water and yet still benefit from water. The starting point was the constraint of a site which is flooded every two years. Among the solutions were submersible houses, waterproof houses, floating houses and houses that could be lifted.

It was a challenge in itself to design a house that continues to operate under different conditions. An elevated house for instance is well protected against the water, but under normal circumstances – due to its height difference – has a bad relationship to its surroundings. How to solve this?

Next, the students combined their individual unit designs into urban plans. The probabilty of flooding turned out to be an extra design challenge, for example in the area of accessibility. Why organize enclosure from the dry land, when the water actually provides the most consistent transportation medium?


The 10 plans that the students presented after three days varied significantly. There was a fully floating neighborhood where – depending on sun, wind and privacy – homes could rotate around their axis. Another design featured Team X-inspired neighborhood whose streets, squares and houses were built around a regular grid of poles. Depending on the water level the housing could be hydraulically lifted or lowered.

At the final exhibition a jury (consisting of the four teachers involved) awarded the design ‘Submerged Living’ as the overall winner. The design consisted of houses that were made of tilted and partly submerged floating blocks and combined the optimal experience of living on and under the water. The more private parts of the houses were situated partly underwater, while the spaces above the watersurface provided a wide view of the surroundings.


Back in Delft, students are applying their experience to the development of a new neighborhood in Amsterdam’s Minervahaven neighborhood. In the future – according to the Structure Plan 2040 – this area aims to provide a large part of the required 70,000 new homes in the city. However, there is a relatively high risk of flooding in this area. Additionally, the nearby industrial infrastructure creates a serious obstacle to the livability. The design challenge thus is how water safety, water storage and water experience can be integrated with building homes in this difficult context.

Curious about the outcome? On Friday, January 23, 2015 starting from 14:00 a final public presentation of all studio results will be held at the orange tribune in the West Serre at TU Delft, with contributions of Dick van Gameren (head Architecture section, TU Delft) and Lasse Andersson (head of urban design section, Aalborg University).

By Pepijn Bakker and Olv Klijn

Tutors Msc 1 studio ‘Living with water’, Delft faculty of

Architecture, chair of Dwelling.

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