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INHABITAT INTERVIEW: Koen Olthuis of WaterStudio.nl Talks About Design for a Water World
In light of all the dire news related to climate change, rising sea levels and the natural disasters which have stricken numerous coastal areas around the world, we here at Inhabitat would like to highlight an interview Inhabitat Editor-in-Chief Jill Fehrenbacher conducted with architect Koen Olthuis of Waterstudio.nl. A studio focused on designing for a future water world, Olthuis has been at the forefront of this once unconventional, yet now timely design vernacular. Olthuis says that despite our civilization’s history of trying to drain and fight against wet landscapes for the past thousand years, our best move for the future would be to “let water in and even make friends with the water.” Read on for the fascinating interview where Olthius describes his what designing for water landscapes worldwide really means.
You have to trust an architect who has grown up in a landscape completely engineered for water. Roughly a third of the Netherlands lies below sea level, and is home to over sixty percent of the country’s population of 15.8 million people. The Dutch have spent the last thousand years constructing dikes, pumps, and drainage systems in a constant battle to keep the encroaching North Sea at bay. On my recent trip to the Netherlands, I was fortunate to get the chance to sit down with architect, to discuss amphibious dwellings, floating foundations, and his experiences designing for water landscapes worldwide.
Jill: So Holland is almost completely built on wetlands, right?
Koen: Yes, the landscape is completely artificial. It’s fake in the sense that we have pumped out all the water, created dikes, and if you don’t have those dikes, then this would all be under water. The problem is we have three and a half thousand areas like this. It is amazing. And if you ask just somebody in Holland, they don’t even realize it. People in Holland are so used to the idea that I think nobody knows what the risks are anymore. And people from the United States and China, watch our systems of keeping the water out of the landscape the water out. But while they want to emulate our system of dikes, we are actually trying to move away from fighting against the water. Now we are beginning to let the water in and we are starting to make friends with the water. We have to do that because eventually the dikes won’t be able to keep up and all of this part of Holland’s will be flooded. So, its better just to work with the water instead of fighting against it.
Jill: How did Holland get like this in the first place?
Koen:: Well, when the first people came here from France and Germany, they came to the coast and they found space to live in this swamp and they created little artificial hills – what we call terpen. And between each hill was swamp. And then they created dikes from one hill to another hill in order to keep them dry. And then after awhile, you have one, two, three, four terpen – artificial hills with dikes around them, you say okay, why don’t we just pump out the water in between it. And so this gradually became dry land – what we call a polder. Only the people had to pump out the water constantly. Because if you stop pumping, then in 48 hours, a polder will be flooded again with 30 to 60 centimeters water. That means that if you stop pumping, this will all be water immediately. And so, Holland is completely artificial, because we just keep on pumping – Well, three and a half thousand polders constantly pumping out the water is a problem at times when there is a lot of rain and the river gets too high, and when the sea water level is high…
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