This Bridge in the Netherlands is Designed to Embrace Flooding

The Dutch city of Nijmegen has a bridge that is designed to actually flood. During high rainfall stepping stones allow locals to cross while cars wait out the rain.

Architects have designed a bridge that partially floods for the low-lying Dutch city of Nijmegen. The city has been prone to intense flooding for years. Usually, damage from floods is mitigated by a series of dikes. 

But this old infrastructure is starting to deteriorate and crack, putting the city at risk. City officials decided instead of trying to fight the natural water rise and ebb they would work with it, designing a bridge that adapts to rising sea levels. 

This Bridge in the Netherlands is Designed to Embrace Flooding
Source: Next Architects

Bridge embraces floods

The bridge can sustain partial flooding after heavy rainfall without damage to its infrastructure. The design allows pedestrians to still cross the bridge even during heavy flooding by using a series of stepping stones to cross the flooded water. 

Next Architects and H+N+S Landscape Architects created the Zalige bridge, which is among the first of its kind in the Netherlands. "As a crest above the river, the bridge emphasizes the dynamic character of water by letting people see and experience the changing river landscape," the design team writes

The Netherlands encourages water-resistant infrastructure

The bridge was conceived as part of the Room for the River Waal, a nationwide project by the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment to encourage more flood-resilient architecture. The bridge is part of the riverside park in Nijmegen and continues the park's path structure over the floodplains. 

The bridge changes with the season, during the high rainfall months, parts of the bridge become submerged, making access by car inaccessible. Pedestrians can still follow the route using the stepping blocks that rise from the water. 

This Bridge in the Netherlands is Designed to Embrace Flooding
Source: Next Architects

Bridge shows a new view of water-system

The bridge opens up ways for visitors to the park to visibly understand the flood patterns of the river and experience the spatial quality of the water. "All designs by Next Architects start from the unique characteristics of a place," explained Michel Schreinemachers, a partner at the Amsterdam-based firm. 

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"This bridge is built on the floodplains; this fact was used to design a bridge that strongly connects and interacts with the river landscape; as a path over the water."

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The bridge was completed in 2016 but was put to its first real test in January 2018 when flood waters rose to their highest levels in 15 years. 

This time, the flooding water became an attraction for the local population, who went to the park to watch the bridge slowly flood. In low water periods, the stepping stones act as benches or lookout points, but as the water rises, they become the only way across the river. 

This Bridge in the Netherlands is Designed to Embrace Flooding
Source: Next Architects

Water becomes major focus for cities worldwide

In January this year, even the stepping stones became flooded. The success of the bridge and its ability to adapt to flooding means it has become a pinup for other infrastructure projects in close contact with flooded areas. 

"Awareness of water issues is still low, unfortunately," explained Henk Ovink, the government-appointed special envoy for international water affairs. "This is why we have to tell more stories to make people understand how important the water issue is." 

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City planner and infrastructure designers are embracing new ways to think about cities relationship to water as rising sea levels threaten many low lying areas.

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