Alblasserwaard, The Netherlands

A sectoral flood safety approach has been the critical condition for Delta Urbanization in the Netherlands until now. But does this have to be the case for future urbanization as well? The Dutch approach to flood safety developed over the past centuries, is essentially focused on probability reduction, preventing flooding at all cost. In this approach, a dilemma appears to exist between (sectoral) flood safety on the one hand and biodiversity and flood resilience on the other. Where pursuit of flood safety, especially in a context of extreme climate scenario’s, might continue to go at the cost of biodiversity and resilience.

The thesis is on the reconciliation of the human and natural systems of the Dutch Delta. It proposes a re-positioning of the relationship between human and nature. The concept and understanding of landscape identity is an expression of this relationship. In the case of the Dutch delta, landscape and flood safety are inevitably intertwined, and a certain relationship of human dominating over nature becomes apparent of this intertwining. The Dutch landscape is historically shaped through hydrology, geology, air and climate, however, contemporary landscapes represent severe anthropogenic intervening, enclosing and directing the dynamics of hydrology, geology, air and climate.

This thesis aims to understand the relationship between people and nature, through landscape Identity, the mutual relationship between people and landscape, shaped by and shaping landscape characteristics and individual and collective identity. Subsequently, proposing and testing a method for altering this relationship, based on the following hypothesis: Shifting the technocratic understanding of flood safety to align [again] with the trajectories of hydrology, geology, air and climate, which are both fundamentally shaping the landscape, allows the transition towards a biodiverse and flood resilient delta. Rethinking the relationship between people and nature, through landscape, is therefore essential. The concept of Building with Nature is tested as an approach to align the understanding of flood safety with the dynamics of air, water and soil. Proposing this re-alignment as the new critical condition for delta urbanization in transition towards a biodiverse and resilient delta. Ultimately, proving this apparent dilemma between flood safety on the one hand and  biodiversity and resilience on the other, to be void.

Landscape Identity. Representation of the mutual people – nature relationship manifested in the landscape. Landscape Identity is dynamic and constantly altered by natural landscape transformations, anthropogenic intervention and societal changes. The people – nature relationship can therefore be understood in two inseparable spheres of action and perception that are in a constant back and forth of alteration and conceptualization of the landscape.
Compartmentalization of a dynamic delta landscape. The flood safety approach of probability reduction has compartmentalized a once dynamic landscape at the confluence of coastal and riverine territory. Showing the project scales, the scheme represents the line of reasoning for intervention between the regional systemic scale and the individual [conceptualization] scale. Utilizing the anthropogenic compartments, the coastal and riverine territories are gradually embraced through Building with Nature, demanding and allowing different networks of land use and settlement. Evenly important is a different conceptualization of landscape, addressing the action and perception sphere in reconciling people and nature.
Systemic performance. Representing the spatial reconfiguration of a more dynamic hydrology as the new critical condition for delta urbanization. On the regional systemic scale, flood resilient Building with Nature solutions such as vegetated foreshores, double dikes or paludiculture, are implemented. The urban fabric connects to the hydrologic system as a filter, monitoring and adapting to the hydrologic dynamics of the coastal, riverine and inland territory.
Artefacts. The elements of the hydraulic system allow hydrologic movement in both seaward and inland direction, therefore they are critical for transitioning towards a flood resilient and biodiverse delta. Furthermore, these dams, dikes, pumps and sluices play a large role in landscape identity and are representative of people mastering over nature. A broadened purpose is proposed. Besides regulation, they are spaces of monitoring, cleaning, learning and enjoying nature, allowing different ways of conceptualizing the landscape, placing people in the landscape as part of nature.