Designed By Water - The Netherlands - Country Of Honor At 2020 Shenzhen Design Week
At Design Society, the new creative platform for Shenzhen and beyond, we believe that design has the power to be much more than a functional object made pretty. It can be seen as a capacity to address problems and needs in an intelligent, comprehensive and sustainable way, as to develop solutions that last, inspire and bring a better society. Hence our name Design Society, and our slogan Design to Love. Design we pursue is design that has the power to change, to inspire and to connect. We always look for partners who resonate this curiosity and aspire to high quality, and the desire to share it with the many. Teaming up with the International Water Envoy of The Netherlands Henk Ovink, and executing the virtual exhibition for the Shenzhen Design Week together, is in direct resonance with this mission.
The Dutch country of honor contribution to the Shenzhen Design Week 2020 widens the discourse of design to city, landscapes, and even geography and territories. Its prime subject matter is water. It shows how water can be a burden, a threat, a lacking resource and an ecological threat. And at the same time, it demonstrates how it can become a source of pride, beauty and a generator of public health. The contribution is about the ways how natural risks can be turned into social benefits by way of careful design, and how water can be used as a design medium itself. A formidable legacy The Dutch have built up a formidable legacy throughout centuries of living with water – water has determined the life of the Dutch people. The Netherlands is a coastal country in the North-West European Rhine-Meuse river delta, with a temperate maritime climate and frequent rainfall. Over time, the people here have learned to deal with and benefit from these wet conditions, which every Dutch citizen realizes as a child when they are told to learn how to swim quickly to prepare for the ever-present risk of inundation. Alongside this discourse of “risk”, there is another equally important discourse of “opportunity” associated with being surrounded by water. These opportunities arise from shipping trade, of course, but also from engineering ingenious defense structures and enhancing the quality of life by innovating new strategies for comprehensive landscaping.
Design Society, Sea World Culture and Arts Center
A formidable legacy
The Dutch have built up a formidable legacy throughout centuries of living with water – water has determined the life of the Dutch people. The Netherlands is a coastal country in the North-West European Rhine-Meuse river delta, with a temperate maritime climate and frequent rainfall. Over time, the people here have learned to deal with and benefit from these wet conditions, which every Dutch citizen realizes as a child when they are told to learn how to swim quickly to prepare for the ever-present risk of inundation. Alongside this discourse of “risk”, there is another equally important discourse of “opportunity” associated with being surrounded by water. These opportunities arise from shipping trade, of course, but also from engineering ingenious defense structures and enhancing the quality of life by innovating new strategies for comprehensive landscaping.
The nationwide recognition of these risks, and opportunities to respond to them, reveal a third benefit from the watery conditions: the genesis and advancement of a unique art of territorial management that relies heavily on the structuring power of water governance. The country’s greatest historians show that the Dutch relationship with water has actually been the core substance of nation building, by cementing a culture of mutual understanding, respect and collaboration. Social psychologists have also observed that water has even influenced the collective state of mind in the Netherlands, where people tend to appreciate the quality of light reflected in water, are inclined to sobriety, and share at once a sense of urgency and beauty. It is no wonder then that water has inspired the greatest of Dutch painters – names as canonical as Van Goyen, Ruysdael, Vermeer and Mondriaan. For the Dutch, water is so much more than an object of engineering – it is a human condition; it is an inspiration. It is, ultimately, a medium for the country’s unique design.
Can this legacy be an inspiration for others? Let’s begin with a global emergency.
Worldwide, more and more people are living in cities, often located on rivers or on the coast. Longer periods of drought, massive subsidence due to groundwater extraction and heavy rains coupled with coastal geographies and the cities’ rapidly increasing vulnerability due to sea level rise, are making these cities particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. With 90% of all natural disasters being water-related, water-related problems affect billions of people and cause trillions of dollars of damage.
As The Netherlands is a leading nation in water management in the broadest sense, and as it enjoys global acknowledgement for its resolve to address multiple problems with the unifying power of design, it has shown a growing awareness of water as an important indicator of climate urgency and as an enabler for sustainable development. That’s why the Dutch International Water Envoy Henk Ovink developed the concept of “water as leverage”, to foster global climate resilience initiatives and accelerate innovate climate action. At numerous occasions and places, he has steered the debate and research to include the water dimension in the local discourses of social and urban development. The collaboration with China is strong. The Netherlands and China, for instance, are both partners in the Global Commission on Adaptation, and host the Global Center on Adaptation (GCA) in Rotterdam (HQ), Groningen and Beijing.
Dutch Water Design and China
At the Shenzhen Design Week, special attention is given to the historical legacy of the Dutch water tradition, in relation to the specific situation in Guangdong.
Given the long Dutch history of managing water, designing the country by, with and despite water, and using water as a leverage for social design, Dutch creatives are active worldwide to engage with the pressing environmental issues that come with climate change. When there is, or when there may be too much, too little, or too dirty water, Dutch designers and engineers are often part of the team to deal with it, or even bring up unsolicited ideas to start thinking about comprehensive solutions.
China, and in particular Shenzhen, are no different regarding this engagement. Several Dutch offices are working on key challenges for Shenzhen, such as coastal protection, waterfront development, battling surface water pollution, and the general improvement of urban quality by embedding the water issues into a wider urban design practice. Frequently, the involvement is part of vast collaborations with local and international partners. The visitor will find 6 recent and topical examples (Proposal for the ecological embankment around the start-up area of Xiong’an New Area, Jianghan Guan Urban Balcony Project, Shenshan Special Cooperation Zone Project, Shenzhen Marine City Project, Shenzhen Xiaomeisha Coastal Zone Project, Typhoon-proof East Dike Shenzhen Project), representing the range of expertise from Holland, for China.
Surface water of the new city will be collected, held, and then reused and purified in linear parks within the city stucture which are adaptive for very dry situations to moments of exceptionally strong flood.
Proposal for the ecological embankment around the start-up area of Xiong’an New Area – West 8
Metropolitan architecture’s proposal highlights the historical context of this important area, reorienting local roads, highways and all parking lots to connect the underground tunnel in front of jianghan pass, freeing up surface space and creating a new pedestrian recreation space.
Jianghan Guan Urban Balcony Project – OMA
Focus on Shenzhen
Given this elaborate engagement at its current stage, it will be interesting to witness a deepening of the dialogue with the water experts of Shenzhen itself. That’s why the Dutch contribution also includes a webinar series to strengthen the Netherlands-Shenzhen partnership, create an in-depth understanding of the Pearl River Delta challenges and opportunities, and invest in a deeper future dialogue with the water and creative sectors of Shenzhen.
For this process of partnering and sharing, Shenzhen is an ideal podium. The city, situated in the south of Guangdong Province, features 11 river water systems and a total of 189 reservoirs. With a subtropical maritime climate, Shenzhen has the average annual rainfall of 1935.8 mm, 85% of which mainly falls from April to September.
At the same time, the city has gained a global reputation as an innovation powerhouse, but also as a marine and delta city that most likely will be hugely affected by climate change. It also has been assigned to build a pilot demonstration area of socialism with Chinese characteristics and, among other objectives, “take the lead in creating a beautiful Chinese model of harmonious co-existence of man and nature”. The Netherlands’ contribution as the guest country refers to Shenzhen’s sustainable development agenda and will provide constructive input and suggestions to the city’s climate resilience through international water management dialogues and cooperation.
Shenshan Special Cooperation Zone Project – OKRA
OKRA, together with MLA+ and shenzhen institute of architectural science, has combined modern dutch design path with chinese historical water control strategy to create a development framework with the interaction of mountain, sea and land.
Shenshan Special Cooperation Zone Project – OKRA
Blue Economy, Blue City
Shenzhen Marine City Project - NL Urban Solutions & DeltaresAiming at the key development pain points of xiaomeisha coastal zone, MLA+ puts forward three design concepts: 1. Reconnect mountains and seas; 2. Overall toughened mirror design; 3. Construction of a thriving and self-sustaining coastal resort.
Shenzhen Xiaomeisha Coastal Zone Project – MLA+ KCAP+Felixx put forward the "triple coastal defense strategy", which provided a global scheme for the adaptation of 130 km coastline to climate. Under this concept, water security strategies are closely linked to island-wide ecological conservation development, while creating a resilient framework for social and economic growth. Typhoon-proof East Dike Shenzhen Project – KCAP and Felixx Typhoon-proof East Dike Shenzhen Project – KCAP and Felixx
The Netherlands presents “Water as Leverage for Sustainable Development: A Call to Action by Design”. Showcasing the compelling water approach of the Netherlands as an act of ingenuity, collaboration and design: famous for centuries, but timely and topical through international partnerships and innovative projects across the globe, in Asia in particular. The international practice of designing by and with water, is featured by the official launch of the second edition of the World Water Atlas, an in-depth knowledge bank and platform on water design intelligence. Against this backdrop, a special event page, featuring Dutch water design expertise in China, and most notably in the Pearl River Delta region, was launched at the Shenzhen Design Week 2020.
Photo Credit/Design Society, Organizing Committee of the Shenzhen Design Week