Netherlands Study Trip

Water in the City

This year’s study trip focussed on “Water in the City” and the City of Rotterdam certainly did not disappoint on this headline.  After meeting at the IBIS hotel and introducing ourselves (as there were some new members in the group) we made our way to Blaak station to seek out the afternoon's venues.

 Our visit began with a tour around the famous Kubuswoning (Cubic Houses) (also known as Paalwoningen - Pole Dwellings) designed by Piet Blom. The city of Rotterdam had asked him to design housing on top of a pedestrian bridge and he decided to use the cubic houses idea. The concept behind these houses is that each cube represents an abstract tree; therefore the whole village becomes a forest. The cubes are tilted and sit on hexagon-shaped pole structures. The cubes contain the living areas, which are split into three levels. The triangle-shaped lower level contains the living area. The middle level contains the sleeping area and a bathroom, while the top level, also in a triangular shape, is used as either an extra bedroom or a living space. The top level provides a great view since the apex of the room is a three sided pyramid with windows all around. The pole below some of the cubes allow for storage space as well as the staircase that leads to the entrance, while others have shops on the promenade level. We agreed these were definitely the most unusual dwellings we had seen.

We next visited the famous Markthal by MVRDV – whose distinctive 40 metre arched roof can be seen clearly from Blaak station. 
The building is constructed with giant glazed walls at either end which protect it from the elements - the steel cables created a sort of net inbetween which each glass panel has been hung, giving the distinctive arched roof effect.
Inside of the arch can be seen a colourful mural "Cornucopia" which depicts oversized images of produce which can be bought in the market whilst the flowers and insects depect the work of Dutch still-life masters from the 17th century.   Residents can look down into the market via square walls which are located at the flat grey end walls and inside the internal arch.   There is also a stair case in the centre of the market which is a permanent exhibition of artefacts found during the excavation and building of the Markthal.

After savouring the sights and sounds of the Markthal – we all agreed on a suitable venue for dinner and a time to meet.  Some of us went back to the hotel to freshen up and some of us chose to wander a little further and soak up the atmosphere of the City in the Sky.  As darkness fell the city lit up in a rainbow of colours – its’ tall skyscrapers each reflecting the colours of their neighbours and making for a great photo opportunity.

The next day, Friday 1st April, dawned bright and sunny and we all met up in reception by 9.00 am so that we could walk the short distance to the Timmerhuis a building designed by the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and opened in December 2015. 

We met with Eveline Bronsdijk from Rotterdam City Council so that she could explain their strategy to deal with water.  The city landmass is 80% below sea level and Rotterdam City Council have developed and implemented several solutions in Rotterdam to drain and manage the excess water resulting from increasingly frequent incidents of extreme rainfall. In so doing, Rotterdam has secured a unique position in the world and has become the role model for other delta cities.   The Rotterdam Adaptation Strategy (RAS) seeks to protect both the city and its inhabitants from the effects of too much or too little precipitation by increasing awareness of climate change and the measures citizens can take to help themselves.   As a result of RAS Rotterdam has installed 219,000 m2 of green roofs, water storage infrastructure and developed strong urban water management systems. See links below for more information and presentations:
Following this presentation we were joined by Valerie Brown, a Canadian intern working with Rotterdam City Council on these initiatives and who had kindly offered to act as our guide for the remainder of the day.  
We walked the short distance to the Luchtsingel, a wooden bridge which connects the centre area of Rotterdam to the once neglected Rotterdam North area.   Since the installation of the bridge and the development of a public area at the old station Hofplein and the Pompenburg park development on the old brown field site, this area of Rotterdam (known as Zoho) has been rejuvenated.

We then visited the Katshoek Rain(a)way Garden which features the like-named Rain(a)way tile in an urban garden design which assists in the containment of stormwater runoff in extreme rainfall events.  Four different tile designs are used within the garden, some acting like gutters, and others like filters.   Each tile helps the RAS by removing hard surfaces and replacing them with soft green spaces that can better manage rainwater runoff – thereby avoiding the previous problems of flooding in the neighbourhood.
A few minutes away we found ourselves entering the Water Plaza or “Benthemplein Water Square” where rainwater is collected in two deep basins, and is transported via deep stainless steel gutters which can also serve a dual purpose for the many skateboarders who gather in the plaza.  After the rainfall the water collected in the two deep basins flows into an underground infiltration device and from here gradually seeps back into ground water; maintaining the ground water balance to allow it to cope with dry periods. This in turn helps to keep the city trees and plants in good condition which also helps to reduce urban heat island effect. The water flows back into the open water system of the city after a maximum of 36 hours so the storm water that has been filtered no longer flows into the mixed sewage system.  The frequency of overflow of mixed sewage systems into the open water is therefore reduced leading towards an overall improvement of water in the city.

  Our next point of interest was the floating island created as part of the project ‘Drijvend Groen’ (Floating Greenery) located in the Buizengat.   The project, devised by Tieme Haddeman, focused on two goals; to improve spatial planning and enhance the quality of the water in the port and is Europe’s first floating island as part of the project.
  Our final visit of the day was to the Floating Pavilion which consists of three connected hemispheres that look like bubbles anchored within the Dutch city’s old harbor. An initiative of Rotterdam Climate Proof (part of the Rotterdam Climate Initiative),the mixed-use pavilion was designed by Deltasync and PublicDomain Architects, and is a great example of sustainable, climate-proof architecture. The building's heating and air conditioning systems rely on solar energy and surface water and the systems are only used in areas of the structure where they are specifically required. The pavilion also purifies its own water to use in the toilets and whatever is left can be discharged back into the water with no negative impact. 

After this final visit Valerie left us to go back to her intern job and we all made our way on foot back towards the hotel crossing the iconic Erasumusbrug and heading through the Maritim Museum. We spent another pleasant event walking in the area known as Witte de Wittstraat – the coolest street in Rotterdam and had an amazing dinner in the Restaurant Bazar - a three floor restaurant which is part of an equally eclectic hotel focusing on all things middle Eastern.

The next day we all got up early, ate an early breakfast and checked out of our hotel taking the train from Blaak station towards Amsterdam Centraal and the area known as Ijburg (or Amsterdam by the Sea).
After hour on the train we arrived at Amsterdam Centraal station and the place was heaving, after all it was Saturday morning in one of Europe’s most visited tourist hotspots!  We soon found the place to store our luggage and were happy to set off by tram for the relative tranquillity of Ijburg. 


Ijburg consists of several islands connected by bridges, it has a harbour and the city's only real beach. The water reflects in the air and the light is therefore brighter than in the rest of Amsterdam. The first house at IJburg was build in 2002, the islands have 15.000 dwellers and are still growing. The two main islands are Steigereiland (pier island) and Haveneiland (harbor island).   
  We spent a couple of hours walking around the islands and observing the unique way in which the Dutch live in and around water.   There were great examples of individual Dutch houses built to accommodate living near water – the stilt houses and the floating houses are all unique to this fascinating area.

After a well-earned rest and some lunch in one of the local cafes we took the tram back into Amsterdam for our Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour of Amsterdam.  We boarded the bus and all headed upstairs for the best views – along the way we observed many of the sights of Amsterdam and spent a happy hour in the Diamond Museum! 

We all said goodbye outside Centraal station and continued our journeys – some taking the train and some taking the plane.  “Until next time” we all said.