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Floating neighborhoods in subsiding areas – is it feasible?

Arend van Woerden & Olaf Jansen

A large part of the Netherlands lies below sea level and is characterized by thick layers of soft soils with a low bearing capacity. Applying traditional building methods in these areas often result in neighborhoods with a low resilience to climate change. This is caused by the fact that these areas often lie several meters below sea level. In addition subsidence regularly result in damaged infrastructure and water nuisance, and traditional spatial planning is more susceptible to heat stress and drought. A neighborhood that is built on the basis of floating principles is, in contrary to a traditional neighborhood, climate resilient at its core. This is a result of the fact that floating buildings are hardly damaged during a flood event, subsidence is no longer an issue and heat stress and drought pose less of a threat given the relatively large amount of water surrounding the build environment. However, is it technically feasible to develop such a neighborhood, including a reasonable amount of social housing and standard building sizes, on the basis of floating principles and financially compete with traditional building methods? Though an simulated planning process the municipality of Woerden, Water Board Hoogheemraadschap De Stichtse Rijnlanden, the Province of Utrecht in corporation with Balance d’eau, Zeinstra Veerbeek Architects, Org-ID and Sweco compared both building methods on financial, legal, technical and spatial planning aspects. The study showed that building on the basis of floating principles is feasible and provides many additional benefits on climate resilience and spatial quality compared to traditional building methods. This is however not without financial, technical and legal challenges. These challenges can be met by improving our engineering capabilities, smart construction planning and governing bodies that acknowledge the value of climate resilient development through financial support and new policy measures.

KEYWORDS: Floating development, Soil Subsidence, Spatial planning, Architecture, Business Case Development


Arend van Woerden MSc. is policy advisor at the municipality of Woerden and is manager of the soft soils program at the municipality of Woerden. He is hired from engineering and consultancy company Sweco where he has been working  for 7 years. As a specialist on climate change adaptation and soil subsidence Arend works on multiple projects in the Netherlands and abroad. In the Netherlands he works on the National knowledge program on soil subsidence and he has worked on the National Capital Integrated Coastal Development Program in in Jakarta Indonesia and the Green City Pilot in Kigali Rwanda.

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