A dedicated team
De Urbanisten is a renowned office for urban design and landscape architecture based in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. The office was founded in 2009 by Florian Boer and Dirk van Peijpe. Today, De Urbanisten consists of an international team of about twelve urban designers and landscape architects. The team is curious by nature, dedicated and highly motivated to contribute to a sustainable and attractive living environment for both people and other earthlings.
Climate adaptation and ecology
A strong focus on climate adaptation and ecology is present in all projects of De Urbanisten. We have built a rich and diverse portfolio around these critical themes throughout the years.
The Watersquare is representative of the work of De Urbanisten. It’s an iconic public space where temporary rainwater storage is integrated into an urban plaza. The square is now a proven typology for sustainable urban water management worldwide and has been copied in other cities such as Copenhagen. Also, in other projects, this climate-adaptive and a nature-based approach leads to innovative types of urban landscapes, for instance, the Tidal Parks and the small Sponge Garden, both in Rotterdam.
All scales matter
De Urbanisten easily moves through all relevant scales of landscape design; from more small-scale designs for parks and squares to urban design and city-wide strategies. Groundbreaking is the Waterplan for Antwerp, a policy for a water-sensitive city and a prelude to climate-adaptive plans for the different neighborhoods. The research and design for a water-sensitive Mexico City and the climate adaptation strategy for Rotterdam are as well exemplary of our vision of city-wide strategies.
Also, in our urban plans, De Urbanisten puts landscape first. We developed an extensive set of climate-adaptive and nature-inclusive measures applicable to the design process. The proposals for the new city centre of Nijmegen, the redevelopment of former industrial areas in Schiedam and Delft and the Schijnpark in the city of Antwerp are good examples of this.
Research and design
De Urbanisten attaches great value to research by design as a way to innovate the profession. Exemplary is the study ‘Sponge City Rotterdam’, in which the transition from a draining city to a sponge city is investigated, tested and integrated. In addition, we gained international recognition for our study ‘New Meadowlands’, a winning project in the ‘Rebuild by Design’ competition in New York, where nature-based solutions for New Jersey were researched and designed.
We just do it
To make our innovations visible and experienceable, we sometimes take action ourselves. For instance, in the ZOHO-district in Rotterdam, where De Urbanisten initiated and realized a small guerrilla raingarden, together with the local community. More recent is the Sponge Garden, a test site for soils, vegetation and water management. The garden is developed, monitored and maintained by De Urbanisten.
The bluegreen infrastructures is a key focus in the projects of De Urbanisten, not only contribute to a climate-adaptive city but also to a more nature-inclusive living environment. In addition to all kinds of people, animals are also welcomed in our projects. Here, the “Hofbogenpark” resonates the most to this: a two-kilometre long park on the roof of an abandoned railway will welcome people, hedgehogs, toads, butterflies, bats and bees. The layout and the vegetation are designed with this all-inclusive character in mind.
As a former viaduct, Hofbogenpark adds a new layer for the city – a railway landscape that steadily and smoothly brings visitors through the city, a landscape that moves. It works as a spine, offering a safe environment for both human and animals, a place to stroll, meet, connect, stay, relax, and play. With a length of 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) and an average width of only 8 meters (25 feet), the Hofbogenpark will be the longest and narrowest roof park in the Netherlands.
As a city in the Dutch delta, Rotterdam is vulnerable to climate change. Hofbogenpark showcases innovative climate-adaptive urban solutions as a water and ecological reservoir. Rainwater is harvested and cleaned by natural processes (helophyte filter) in the park and stored in an aquifer. In times of drought, the stored rainwater can be reused for irrigation and entertainment, such as the pleasant water stream, mirroring ponds, and fountains.
Embracing inclusivity, Hofbogenpark creates space for a biodiverse company of people, plants, and animals. The line is continuous, but the vegetation and associated biotopes slowly change along the walk and from season to season. Dry and wet, open and enclosed landscapes offer migration space, shelter, and food for bees, butterflies, toads, bats, birds, and hedgehogs. Porous railway sleepers, the park edge, and stacks of branches will host various animal visitors. The Hofbogenpark connects to a larger ecological corridor and brings nature deep into the heart of the city.
The climate is changing: the rain is getting heavier and the dry periods are lasting longer. How can we moderate these two extremes? Rainwater currently drains through sewers and increases the problem of drought. In the future there will be even a need for larger sewers.
The mechanism of how a sponge can work, follows a threefold sequence of collecting water, storing it for a certain period and then returning the water into the ecosystem. This ‘Collect – Store – Return’ sequence implies that the concept of a sponge is in essence a system.
Our research focused specifically on the city of Rotterdam. In Sponge Garden we test out our research in practice. Here we have realized a test-site for simple and practical ‘natural’ solutions to maximize water resources in the city during heavy rainfalls and periods of extreme drought while creating a context for enhancing biodiversity. In the garden three methods are being tested – Soil cubicles, Waving wadi and Depave garden.
The research and project are our own office initiative, in collaboration with municipality of Rotterdam and with support of Water boards, foundations and private parties. We planted and we maintain the garden ourselves.
Sponge Garden shows that designing flourishing public spaces can go hand in hand with researching new concepts for collecting, retaining and returning rainwater to the natural environment. It is an experimental garden where planting and maintenance is being adjusted over time and extreme rainfalls are simulated.
The Waterplan of Antwerp gives an inspiring vision of how the city can adapt to a climate with larger extremes. Main ambition is to move the focus from an artificial watercity (a city that relies a lot on its current sewage system) towards a natural watercity (a city that is well connected with its natural water channels and green areas) and bring back historical water traces where possible within one city-wide vision.
The vision of the Waterplan consists of a framework of five main water structures. The five structures together are redefined as the blue-green framework for Antwerp. For each of these water structures, a specific rainwater cascade is developed with applicable water sensitive measures. The result of these various measures is that no stormwater disappears into the sewage anymore.
The Waterplan of Antwerp is ratified by the municipality, budgets have been allocated and follow-up actions have been defined. Due to an in¬teractive process with stakeholders of nearly two years, the Waterplan is embedded into a broad range of city departments, the utility companies and the re-gional governmental institutions. The Waterplan narrates a hydrological and spatial blueprint for the city and also frames the transition from exist¬ing design strategies to implementation processes for the coming decades. Water is used as a leverage to redesign Antwerp, focusing on the challenges of flooding, integrating various climate adaptation strategies while substantially greening the city.
The Watersquare combines water storage with the improvement of the quality of urban public space. The water square can be understood as a twofold strategy. It makes money invested in water storage facilities visible and enjoyable. It also generates opportunities to create environmental quality and identity to central spaces in neighborhoods. Most of the time the Watersquare will be dry and in use as a recreational space.
Three basins collect rain water: two undeep basins for the immediate surroundings will receive water whenever it rains, one deeper basin receives water only when it consistently rains. Here the water is collected from the larger area around the square. Rainwater that falls on the square runs via large stainless-steel gutters over it, into the basins. When its dry, these places are fit for everybody on wheels and whoever wants to watch them doing their thing. The deep basin is a true sports pit, as well as a theatre to see and be seen.
All that can flood is painted in shades of blue. All that transports water is shiny stainless steel. The space is gently defined and subdivided by a green structure of high grasses, colorful flowers and the existing large trees. Our water square creates a new context for the great modern building of Maaskant and the fantastic giant artwork of Karel Appel.
Climate Proof ZoHo is an initiative by De Urbanisten to implement the Rotterdam Climate Adaptation Strategy on the district scale. Promising climate measures are combined with local initiatives to create an adaptive and attractive district. The initiative included an analysis of the climate impact and a series of workshops with ZoHo citizens, professionals and the municipality of Rotterdam. The result was a shared climate perspective for ZoHo. This was followed by the realization of several small but inspiring projects in the area.
ZoHo Raingarden. The project started with a guerrilla raingarden by De Urbanisten and the local community. After depaving, rainwater is collected and torpidly released in the planters in order to relieve the sewerage system. Later in the process, the small garden was expanded to a large raingarden.
Katshoek Rain(a)way Garden is part of the new streetprofile, which is largely depaved. The hard surface is being replaced with innovative Rain(A)way tiles, developed by Fien Dekker and rainwater infiltrates water in plantings.
ZoHo Post Office Bench – Owners of ‘PostOffice’, which is located in the ZoHo district, wanted to make the front of the shop inviting and green. De Urbanisten created this by placing a rain barrel and a low-tech watering system. It’s a solution that works both ways: rain water is stored and reused, and the barrel suits the place perfectly.