“Designing means looking at things through a new lens”

To keep deltas safe and livable, we cannot continue on the same path. Redesigning Deltas wants to outline alternative paths, with research by design as an important tool. The coming months mark a new phase in which various designs for the Dutch delta will be presented, and new research questions will be harvested.

Deltas are facing unprecedented challenges due to rising sea levels and high pressure on public space, for example due to the housing shortage. Constantly raising the dikes also increases the potential impact of a disaster and has far-reaching spatial impacts. A radically different approach is therefore needed to keep deltas safe and livable. That is the main premise of Redesigning Deltas. “We want to show that there are multiple spatial future scenarios that are also safe and that the rigid regime with strict standards can be loosened if we start designing differently,” says associate professor Fransje Hooimeijer of the Delta Urbanism research group at TU Delft.

Design is key

Hooimeijer is one of the initiators of Redesigning Deltas, in which Erasmus University Rotterdam, TU Delft, Wageningen University, PBL, Deltares and the Delta Program are working together. There are plenty of studies and reports on the delta approach, but the scientist sees stagnation. “In this project, we want to promote design as a tool. Designing is inventing, it means trying to do things differently by looking at them in a new context. The best scenario would be to spend the money intended for water safety in such a way that we make the Netherlands more sustainable and healthier at the same time.”

Shift in thinking

On a project scale, this is increasingly successful. Hooimeijer, for example, is involved in an Interreg research project, in which the municipality of Vlissingen is pioneering a strategy to embrace the water. Raising the dike would mean the loss of a row of historic houses. In order to prevent damage, the water that comes over the dike during a potential flood would be drained through a street designed like a river. “This really requires a shift in thinking, because we no longer resist nature, but want to learn to live with it. Rijkswaterstaat and water authorities are obviously reluctant to do so, which makes sense if you look their long historical responsibility,” she sees.

Designing at Redesigning Deltas takes place in the form of design studios in which urban planners, landscape architects and engineers (from 15 different agencies) work together on challenges in the Dutch delta. The five teams are looking at how they can spatially integrate water management within existing areas for 2120.  The designs aim to be provocative, according to the scientist: “If you make a provocative proposal you take people outside their comfort zone. Then you learn to think differently and reflect on what this might mean for your discipline in the future.”

Transformative pathways

The teams will present their designs during the International Architecture Biennale this fall in Rotterdam. This marks an important phase, because the visions also illustrate existing bottlenecks and raise new questions. The Redesigning Deltas consortium will continue working on those research questions. “There are many plans for the Netherlands, but they have to be backed. We want to do the drawing and do the math at the same time.  We want to do so in the long term, that’s what makes this movement special. We call them ‘transformative pathways’ because there are always multiple paths.”

Hooimeijer intentionally speaks of a movement and not a project: “A project always has a clear end date, but we really want to initiate change and get as many people as possible on board.” That is why the Redesigning Delta’s conference from June 16 to 18 is so important. “We can’t lay it out, because ultimately it’s about the people who have to make it work. For that, you have to educate people differently and get them to think differently, so that one day this way of thinking might become mainstream. That is what we want to give a push.”


Find more information on the conference here

Any questions?

Please contact our business developer

Michelle Damen

Innovations Manager