River IJssel

OKRA: The landscape of the wide, slowly flowing rivers is inextricably linked with the delta. In this flat country, their fall is only slight, and these rivers seem to flow more slowly than they do. Though they look peaceful, appearances can be deceptive. In the Netherlands, our centuries-old fight against the water has largely been a battle against the natural elements. The low-lying land of the delta needs protection not only against the sea, but also against the rivers.

On a par with other European countries, the Netherlands faces difficulties in coping with peak water levels in its rivers. During centuries numerous measures have been taken to keep the water out, thus protecting new and reclaimed land. For this purpose already in the early middle ages public organisations – regional water boards – were established.

As technology advanced, the number of floods was gradually reduced. However, in the second half of the 20th century, coastal and river defences were tackled in an increasingly technocratic way, and, as with landscape planning, matters were carried too far. Too great a stress was placed on engineering, and the measures became increasingly uncompromising. One result was an illusory sense of security. Embankments and levees were raised, and land was taken for housing and other types of intensive land-use when it was actually necessary to the system of rivers, streams and coast.

A few years ago, high water in the river put us on the alert. In many places in Europe, extreme peaks of meltwater combined with a large amount of precipitation result in problems for towns and cities. The apparent danger of flooding made people aware of the need to review the space allowed for river systems. In this respect, a programme for allowing space for rivers is being implemented in the Netherlands. Larger areas beside the river can be inundated by extreme amounts of water draining away. In towns and villages, dikes and artificial embankments are being raised. Mostly technocratic solutions were suggested which could not integrate with the urban settlements.

Today, the paradigm that long dominated thinking at the regional water boards therefore seems to be changing. No longer are structures intended as defences against the water regarded in isolation; instead, they are seen as vital parts of the landscapes and towns that surround them. Such a view provides scope for integrating that structure within the urban landscape, and thus for linking a town with the river that runs through it. The quay along the IJssel in Doesburg is one of the first projects in which a structure that meets the most recent safety requirements is integrated with a new, public quayside, one which is itself part of a network of public urban spaces.

Riverbank reinforcement in relation to the Hanseatic town

Like similar towns along the river IJssel exhales the atmosphere of the golden age of the Hanseatic League, a former medieval trade league in North West Europe. However, following the stagnation of economic growth from the end of the 15th century, it never developed a real riverfront. The narrow strip between the moat and the river had been put to use by only a few commercial premises. Now that the industrial premises beside the river are disappearing, to be replaced by more than two hundred dwellings and a hotel on the river, there is an opportunity to create a modern waterfront with a phenomenal view over the water meadows on the opposite side of the IJssel to as far as the edge of the Veluwe national park. In this sense, creating a new IJssel waterfront is a unique project because making a new waterfront on one of our large rivers is something that happens only sporadically.

OKRA has designed a new IJssel waterfront that derives its inspiration from the medieval character of the city centre and the atmosphere of former industries beside the river. A sophisticated relationship between old and new ensures that the historical past and the future are closely interwoven. The IJssel waterfront is being approached in the light of dike-improvement projects. In 1995, a dike was thrown up between the city and the river. With this current project, the high-water defences is be integrated with the expansion of the urban area. City and river are linked to each other.The development in fact leads to the creation of an inner and an outer waterfront on the IJssel: besides the riverfront, there is also the canal along the former fortification. Like the IJssel quay itself, the inside and outside of the former moat are treated as waterfronts in their own right.

Bridge that links the waterfront and the town

The almost literal leap over the river between the old and new town is made on an arched bridge for cyclists and pedestrians. The bridge is built on a supporting framework consisting of two arched tubes 18 metres in length. To make it possible for the bridge to made in a factory, the length is somewhat shortened. The construction consists of a deck, anchored to a framework of beams to reduce vibration. The railings along the quayside and the bridge create a single unity, though both are a little more modest than those along the riverside.

On the town side, the various fragments of the canal that used to surround the town centre are joined again. On the side of the old rampart, the new canal is given a soft bank; on the side of the new riverfront, the bank is stony. Along the canal a high quay and a low quay are realized. By lowering part of the narrow profile that runs along the houses, contact with the water is increased, and views onto the narrow watercourse optimised. The bridge is linked to the higher quay, several steps link the quay along the water and the higher quay.

Waterfront along the river

The layout of the waterfront is contemporary, but with a clear reference to the historical city centre. The waterfront mirrors the ‘atmosphere’ of the meeting of city and water. First and foremost, it is a dike constructed in accordance with the water board regulations that establish its height. After all, in this part of the IJssel, there is still a considerable difference in water level of approximately five metres between high water and low water. The waterfront nowadays is far more than just a dike; it is a waterfront where people live and work and where people are strolling. The former Hanseatic city has acquired a new élan by exploiting its possibilities for tourism, in line with the increasing attention paid to the Hanseatic cities. If the waterfront is to be lively, it must offer possibilities for mooring various types of boats and ships. It is also a waterfront that provides opportunities for transformation in the long term – both in terms of buildings and public spaces.

The waterfront is interesting for the possibilities it allows for exploiting various situations with regard to the water. The concept is actually very clear and is grafted onto the river: a high waterfront and a low waterfront. One functions as a mooring place for ships and the other as a promenade. The high quay is an attractive quay lined with imposing houses. A row of trees divides the space upon it into two parts: one between these buildings and the promenade and one on the water’s edge. With its widely varying heights, the new ground level of the elevated residential area brings the relationship between town and river into a new perspective. The view of the Veluwe massif from the high embankment draws attention to the contrast between this side of the river and the other side with its water meadows and flood plains. In principle, the low waterfront is outside the dike, can be flooded and is empty apart from nautical furniture. The higher embankment is always dry and is residential. Thanks to the difference in elevation between the old ground level and the new embankment, it was simple to build car-parking space under the housing, thus keeping public space free of cars. The boundary between the high and low quay is defined by a slightly sloping wall topped with railings; both are adapted to the scale of the river. A slightly sloping wall with a railing on the top forms the boundary between the high and the low embankments. It conforms to the size and scale of the river. The wall acts as a water defence and includes facilities such as water and electricity for ships. The difference in height makes it possible to embed reservoirs and containers in the ground behind the wall.

Lower quay and bridge towards the peninsula

The series of bridges provide a route, linking the old city heart and the river. The highlights of the waterfront are formed by a couple of prominent places such as the grandstand stairs facing the sun that offer natural seating at the port basin and a peninsula locating the ‘Doesburg panorama’, an observation tower on a pontoon on the peninsular that has yet to be developed.
The grand stairs lead from the high quay to the low quay. The low quay is a place for strolling along the river. A small bridge from the low quay leads towards a small peninsula in the river. The bridge is linked to the low quay, a quay that can take a lot of punishment, especially in winter, when it will be under water. Thus is the bridge, it is accessible in summertime for people to stroll to the edge of the river.

Because of its relationship with the enormous size and scale of the river and because of its grounding in the existing city, the project adds a new dimension to Doesburg. The atmosphere and use of the river are bringing a new impetus to this Hanseatic town of the 21st century. The surrealistic quality of the waterfront is strong: the colours of the weather reflected in the water, the changes of the seasons visible in the shadows on the ground, serene and silent in the winter, lively in the summer, mysterious in the morning mist.

Landscape Architecture: OKRA
Location: Doesburg, The Netherlands
Costs: 480 Euro per m2
Total Euro 7.200.000,- Euro, area 1,5 ha.
Project realized in 2001. Livingarea 2005
Text & photos: OKRA

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