architecture climate change

Building of the week: Benthemplein water plaza

A few years ago I wrote about ‘sponge cities’ in the Netherlands, and how the country was adapting to reduce flood risk in an age of climate change. The particular idea that caught my eye was the water square – a public space that is designed to fill with water and prevent floods. The water pools in such a way that the square is still usable, but different. Excess rainwater is held and drains away safely, rather than overwhelming the drains.

At the time of writing, the idea was largely theoretical. The city of Rotterdam was planning them, but there weren’t any real life examples. Today I had an email from the German Sustainable Building Council on the subject of water plazas. It reminded me of them, and I thought I should go and check if any of them have been built yet.

And I’m pleased to discover that the answer is yes. There are several. Here is the first to be completed, the Benthemplein water plaza.

For most of the year the square serves as a multi-purpose open space. The square has a college and a youth theatre, so it was designed for young people to socialise, with the possibility of using it as a performance space. You can skate or play basketball. The photo above shows one of three main ‘pools’. Another one has a smooth island that can double up as a dance floor for outdoor events. A third features an outdoor baptismal pool for a church that faces onto the square.

When it rains, the water progressively fills the square, starting in the oversized steel gutters that double up as skatepark equipment. It tumbles through a series of waterfalls and eventually forms a shallow lake.

I really like the water plaza idea. It’s very smart, and makes flooding into a water feature. It also makes climate adaptation very visible, orienting a whole public space around it and turning it into a positive.

For more examples of water plazas and more photos, along with similar ideas for parks and waterfronts, check out the urban design agency De Urbanisten.

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