Water Square Benthemplein

The water square combines water storage with the improvement of the quality of urban public space. The water square can be understood as a twofold strategy. It makes money invested in water storage facilities visible and enjoyable. It also generates opportunities to create environmental quality and identity to central spaces in neighborhoods. Most of the time the water square will be dry and in use as a recreational space.

On the Benthemsquare the first water square has been realised. In an intense participatory trajectory with the local community we jointly conceived ideas about the square: students and teachers of the Zadkine college and the Graphic Lyceum; members of the adjacent church, youth theatre and David Lloyd gym; inhabitants of the Agniese neighborhood, all took part. In three workshops we discussed possible uses, desired atmospheres and how the storm water can influence the square. All agreed: the water square should be a dynamic place for young people, lots of space for play and lingering, but also nice, green intimate places. And what about the water? This had to be excitingly visible while running over the square: detours obligatory! The enthusiasm of the participants helped us to make a very positive design.

Three basins collect rain water: two undeep basins for the immediate surroundings will receive water whenever it rains, one deeper basin receives water only when it consistently keeps raining. Here the water is collected from the larger area around the square. Rainwater is transported via large stainless steel gutters into the basins. The gutters are special features, they are oversized steel elements fit for skaters. Two other special features bring storm water on to the square: a water wall and a rain well. Both dramatically gush the rain water visibly onto the square. The rain well is designed as a special beginning to the stainless steel gutter lifting itself from the ground. This well brings the water from the adjacent building into the gutter. The water wall brings the water from further away into the deep basin. Here a rhythm of waterfalls is being directed in relation to the amount of water falling from the sky. Two more water extras complete the picture. An open air baptistery is placed next to the church that is situated on the square. Here a small fountain starts from which the water meanders over the square into one of the undeep basins. And in the deep basin we “join the pipe” and plant a drinking fountain for all thirsty athletes to enjoy.

After the rain, the water of the two undeep basins flows into an underground infiltration device and from here gradually seeps back into ground water. Thereby the ground water balance is kept at level and can also cope with dry periods. This helps to keep the city trees and plants in good condition which helps to reduce urban heat island effect. The water of the deep basin flows back into the open water system of the city after a maximum of 36 hours to ensure public health. All the storm water that has been buffered does not flow into the mixed sewage system anymore. Like this the conventional mixed sewage system is relieved and lowers the frequency of his relatively dirty water to overflow in the open water whenever it reaches its buffering capacity. By separating storm water gradually from the black water system with each intervention, the entire system step by step moves towards an improvement of the overall quality of the open water in the city.

When its dry, the square is a feast for active youth to sport, play and linger. The first undeep basin is fit for everybody on wheels and whoever wants to watch them doing their thing. The second undeep basin will contain an island with a smooth “so you think you can dance” floor. The deep (third) basin is a true sports pit fit for football, volleyball and basketball, and is set up like a grand theatre to sit, see and be seen. On each entrance we create more intimate places to sit and linger. The planting plan emphasizes the beautiful existing trees. We plant high grasses and wild flowers surrounding the trees framed by a concrete border at seating height to offer many informal places to relax here.

The color scheme emphasizes the function of the water square: all that can flood is painted in shades of blue and all that transports water is shiny stainless steel. This means gutters receive extra attention and are made beautiful. And the floors of the three basins are painted in blue colors that match with the colors of the surrounding. The space is gently defined and subdivided by a green structure that makes a difference in planting colors between the entrances and the centre of the square. Our water square creates a new context for the great modern building of the architect Maaskant and allows the fantastic artwork of Karel Appel to receive more attention.

We invented the typology of the water square in 2005 for the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam (IABR) “The Flood”. A typological research by design on water squares was carried out by us in 2006-2007. The water square became official policy on an urban scale in the “Rotterdam Waterplan 2” in 2007. A pilot study was carried out in 2008-2009. In 2010 our graphic novel “De Urbanisten and the Wondrous Water square” was published by 010, Rotterdam. In 2011 the preliminary design for the Benthemsquare has been made. In 2012 we finished the final design and construction started. On December 4th 2013 the water square has been officially opened.

See also:
Opening Watersquare – by Rotterdam Climate Initiative
Animation Watersquare – by studio Analoog
Interview Cineac TV – Dutch only
Graphic Novel – 010 Publishers
Watersquare principle – Background information