The Zalige bridge in Nijmegen is the key project within the Urban River Park that was created as part of Room for the River Waal. This is a nation-wide program initiated by the ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment to prevent flooding. Along the historic city centre of Nijmegen the river Waal makes a sharp bend and forms a bottleneck, with high risk of flooding. In the past this would have been solved by fighting the water and building higher dikes. But the Room for the River project took a different approach: it solved this problem by moving the dike 350 meters inland. The displacement of the dike was combined with the construction of a lateral bypass in the widened floodplains. By constructing a bypass channel, an elongated island is created in the river Waal: the island of Veur-Lent. The island and bypass channel together form a river park, that offers a combination of water and nature, recreation and urban activities. The Zalige bridge is the icon of the path that runs through the Urban River Park. Internationally Room for the River has become an exemplary project for a new approach to water management. The bypass was possible because the project was undertaken as an integral development of the area in close collaboration with central and local governments, engineers, architects and local inhabitants. This unique collaboration was a win-win for all the stakeholders involved as the project successfully turned a technical assignment of water safety into an opportunity for qualitative development of the landscape. In addition to water management measures such as the creation of a bypass channel with inlets, dike lengthening and nature development, the project involved the construction of three new bridges. The relevance of the project has been widely recognized. The Urban River Park and the Zalige Bridge have been included in the Blauwe Kamer Landscape Architecture Yearbook 2016 and have won the prestigious Dutch Construction Prize and the NRP Gulden Feniks, the Dutch prize promoting a sustainable use of the build environment. The Zalige bridge has also been nominated for the European Prize of Architecture Philippe Rotthier.

The Zalige bridge is a bridge built on the floodplains within the Urban River Park. This fact was used as a design principle for a bridge that strongly connects and interacts with the surrounding landscape. As a path over the water, the bridge strengthens the park’s wider concept, where landscape and cultural objects converge and connect. The bridge is much more than a functional object: it is explicitly conceived as a meandering continuation of the park’s path structure over the floodplains and over the water. It has a highly metaphorical quality that connects functions and people: the bridge simultaneously becomes a landmark, a public space, and a path. Moreover, the bridge landings and the stepping stones have been designed to be perfectly aligned with the profile of the landscape. When water levels rise, the stepping stones and the bridge (partially) submerges, changing its appearance and its use. The bridge emphasizes the dynamic character of water by letting people see and experience the changing river landscape. The spatial quality of the water is made visible in a poetic way. With its poetic and playful simplicity, the bridge succeeds in raising awareness of the challenges related to water and the environment. Fighting against water is no longer the way to keep the Netherlands secure and liveable. In this country we must learn to live with water by giving it a place in our daily lives. This is exactly what the Zalige bridge stands for.

In January 2018 the Zalige bridge proved itself for the first time. Water levels rose to 12,5 m NAP+: the highest point in 15 years. The high water became an attraction, with the bridge as the ultimate place to experience the high water. Throughout the year, the river Waal has an average height of 7 m +NAP and the bridge stands high above the water. When the river reached 10,5 m +NAP the bridge landings submerged and the stepping stones became the only intermittent path giving access to the bridge. People walked over the bridge and through the river park to see and experience the high water. At 12 m +NAP also the stepping stones were under water, making the bridge inaccessible. As a crest above the river, the Zalige bridge became a symbol for our inextricable relation to water. The bridge emphasizes the dynamic character of water by letting people see and experience the changing river landscape. The attention and enthusiasm for the high water shows how living with water is not done by restraining it, but by giving it enough space. If you can’t beat them, join them.

Entrant office name: NEXT architects / H+N+S Landscape Architects
Role of the entrant in the project: Architect / Landscape architect
Website: /
Other designers involved in the design of landscape:
i.c.w. Witteveen & Bos, Dura Vermeer, Ploegam, Trafique and Ingenieursbureau Amsterdam.
Project location (Street, City, Country): Nijmegen, the Netherlands
Design year: 2011-2015
Year Built: 2016

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