Source: Mecanoo

How researchers can help municipalities build future proof neighborhoods

Transforming the Maasterras into a high-quality living environment

The Dutch government has set its sights on constructing one million new homes over the next decade. This ambitious goal comes with its fair share of challenges, given the tight timeline and the crucial need to consider climate adaptation and other transitions – all of which compete for space. To meet housing demands the City of Dordrecht will transform the Maasterras, an unbanked waterfront into a high-quality living environment. The Resilient Delta Initiative joined forces with the City of Dordrecht and Mecanoo Architecten to explore the potential for the Maasterras to be a self-sufficient shelter in case of extreme flooding.  

Balancing the need for construction with climate adaptation is no small task, making this housing initiative not only ambitious but also complex. Dordrecht is surrounded by water and sits low, with some areas posing safety concerns. The Maasterras, located on higher ground outside the city’s main protective dykes, is a former industrial space. It holds great potential for development but comes with various challenges, ranging from the existing infrastructure that needs to be redesigned to the need for different housing types. Alongside this urban redevelopment puzzle, the City of Dordrecht also wants to explore how water safety can be an asset, rather than liability, in the context of sea level rise and extreme flooding. The central question that Dordrecht asked our researchers: how can we incorporate a shelter function into the design of the neighborhood to make it – and the city – as future-proof as possible?

A nationwide puzzle

Dr. Zac J. Taylor, assistant professor of urban development management at TU Delft and academic lead of the Delta System theme at Resilient Delta, believes the Maasterras project offers a promising blueprint for waterfront similar sites in Greater Rotterdam delta region. “As with many low-lying areas in the west of the Netherlands, the Maasterras project challenges us to integrate both urgent and long-term transitions within spatial development. Where should be build, and how? And to support these decisions, how can universities provide solutions to support decision-makers, designers, and other stakeholders?”

Municipalities regularly collaborate with architects and planners to redevelop areas, but the inclusion of a wide range of academic expertise in such a project is unique. Taylor explains that the invitation from the City of Dordrecht was a rare chance. “It allowed us to experiment and actively test the collaboration between science and practice in a short-term, action-oriented environment. Dordrecht and Mecanoo willingly embraced the challenge and rolled up their sleeves with us.”

Image source: Mecanoo

Source: Mecanoo

We have a university brimming with scientific innovations and a world seeking solutions. Bridging that gap and identifying the sweet spot adds a fascinating dimension to this project.

Dr. Zac J. Taylor

Resilient Delta

Theme Lead Delta Systems

Turning academic expertise into action

Johnathan Subendran, Gluon Researcher for the Resilient Delta Initiative took charge of leading the process of knowledge integration, comprising of four ‘Knowledge Ateliers’ and several rounds of iteration. These sessions brought together academic experts from different fields to discuss their ideas, visions, and solutions for future-proofing Maasterras area

“Our goal was clear – to bring diverse perspectives together in the same room. Through the knowledge ateliers we have managed to generate and integrate a wealth of knowledge which resulted in three main outcomes: a program of requirements for future spatial development, spatial insights for the Mecanoo masterplan design, and a methodology for convergence on how to approach similar complex projects in the future. It’s reassuring to know there is a legacy for the project.”

The collaboration underscored how crucial, but challenging, it can be to bridge the gap between knowledge and practical application, and how to turn innovation into action. Jelle Burger, Innovation lead at Resilient Delta, explains how that gap created challenges. “Both the municipality and Mecanoo were seeking clear-cut solutions from the academics. However, what the scientists brought to the table was inspiration, a wealth of international knowledge on how comparable areas are developed globally and a set of principles that served as a solid foundation. At times the process was uncomfortable, but I’ve come to see it’s an essential part of creating joined success.”

Image source: Mecanoo

Learning by doing

Despite the sometimes-challenging process, Subendran looks back at a successful project. “I wasn’t provided a step-by-step recipe. Instead, I was handed the ingredients. The true outcome remains uncertain until you engage and test. Participating in this experiment has allowed me to grasp the practical meaning of interdisciplinary collaboration. I got my hands dirty— it’s messy, it’s political. This was a collective endeavor. It’s a process of learning by doing.”

For Berry Gersonius, advisor for the Green Blue City at the City of Dordrecht, the project unlocked chances.  “Our collaboration with Resilient Delta helped to secure the buy-in from the project team and steering group of the Maasterras. It helped to show that water can be a strong lever for smart area development – not just another addition to a long wish-list of ambitions. With this buy-in, we have able to carry the flood shelter concept into the next stages of the development.”

This sentiment is echoed by Zac Taylor. According to him the buy-in that was created throughout the process proved crucial. “We have a university brimming with scientific innovations and a world seeking solutions. Bridging that gap and identifying the sweet spot adds a fascinating dimension to this project. The insights we gained on the Maasterras project will help us to refine our methodological toolkit for taking on similar puzzles in the future.”

Read the full Maasterras Booklet here

Integrated Action Framework