Always an early adopter of innovative sustainability methods, the city of Rotterdam is considering piloting roads fabricated from recycled plastic. The creators of PlasticRoad wooed the city council with their proposal of an all-plastic road that is quicker to lay and requires less maintenance than asphalt. Construction firm VolkerWessels also claims that the material can withstand greater temperature extremes—from -40 to 176 fahrenheit—can be laid in weeks rather than months, and lasts three times as long. The Netherlands-headquartered conglomerate points out that asphalt generates 3.2 billion pounds of carbon emissions globally on an annual basis, accounting for two percent of all road transportation emissions. Lighter roads that exert less pressure on the ground are a godsend for the low-lying Netherlands, one eighth of which is already submerged below sea level. The hollow design of PlasticRoads makes it easy to install cables and utility pipelines and even channel rainwater. Sections of road can be prefabricated in a factory, reducing on-site construction and ensuing congestion caused by roadworks. “As far as I know we’re the first in the world [to try this],” Rolf Mars, director of VolkerWessels’ roads subdivision, KWS Infra, told The Guardian. “It’s still an idea on paper at the moment; the next stage is to build it and test it in a laboratory to make sure it’s safe in wet and slippery conditions and so on. We’re looking for partners who want to collaborate on a pilot – as well as manufacturers in the plastics industry. We’re thinking of the recycling sector, universities and other knowledge institutions.” Although still at the conception stage, VolkerWessels hopes to lay the first fully recycled thoroughfare within the next three years, and the city of Rotterdam is raring to host the pilot test. “We’re very positive towards developments around PlasticRoad,” said Jaap Peters from the city council engineering bureau. “Rotterdam is a city that is open to experiments and innovative adaptations in practice. We have a ‘street lab’ available where innovations like this can be tested.” The initiative should perhaps be most lauded for its potentially massive-scale, industrial use of waste materials. And while plastic bottles are already widely recycled and repurposed into garden furniture, compost bins, and more plastic bottles, the questions becomes: can used up PlasticRoads be recycled?
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Have you ever wanted to go to the park but had a highway or rail yard in your way? Ever feel like the best parts of your city are disconnected? Do what Rotterdam- and New York–based designers Zones Urbaines Sensibles (ZUS) did. They wanted to connect parts of Rotterdam, so they took matters into their own hands and put together a crowdfunding initiative to connect a series of three districts through public infrastructure. Luchtsingel, a 1300-foot-long bridge received support from some 5,000 people and finally opened last week. The saga started in 2011 when the city cancelled the development of an office building in Rotterdam Central District. ZUS took over what is known as the Schieblock, and turned it into a city laboratory. The space acts as an incubator for young entrepreneurs and includes a ground-floor store, bar, culinary workshop, information center, and the Dakakker, Europe’s first urban farming roof. When the Delftsehof nightlife area and two parks opened, Pompenburg Park, and the Hofplein Station Roof Park, the districts needed to be connected. As part of the 2012 Architecture Biënnale Rotterdam (IABR), co-curated by ZUS, the area was named “Test Site Rotterdam,” and included 18 interventions connected by the Luchtsingel. The crowd-funding project “I Make Rotterdam” sold over 8,000 boards inscribed with the names of those who donated, for just €25 each. Not all 18 proposals were but the Luchtsingel has now happened. The project is a unifying factor in the resurgence of Rotterdam as a sustainable and pedestrian-friendly urban area, and uses “the city's evolutionary character and existing forms as a starting point. Therefore, we have developed new instruments for design, financing, and planning" to make "a new three-dimensional cityscape," according to ZUS founders Elma van Boxel and Kristian Koreman.
Naysayers have rained criticism on Dutch Solaroad solar bike path system. In the first six months of operation, it reportedly overshot energy production expectations to the collective glee of engineers. However, self-described “scientists” are taking it down with numerical rhetoric, namely the cost and inferior production capacity relative to rooftop solar panels. Last year’s pilot test ate up $3.2 million in investor funding for a 230-foot stretch of concrete, and SolaRoad remains tightlipped on the cost per square foot. As electrical engineering vlogger Dave Jones pointed out in a short emission to his EEVBLOG YouTube channel, mounting solar cells in the same vicinity on a roof curved optimally towards the sun would yield twice the output. Writer Pete Danko demystifies the calculations in an article posted to Breaking Energy, writing: “If you were to put 1300 square feet of [solar panels] on rooftops in Amsterdam, it would add up to 16 kilowatts of capacity (based on 1kw per 80 square feet)." Danko then uses a PvWatt’s calculator by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to compute solar output in the winter months from November to April in the Netherlands versus a rooftop in sunny San Jose, California during the same period. In Amsterdam, the power capacity comes to about 4,600 kwh in lackluster sunshine, while no-quit California rays churn out 10,000 kwh for the same rooftop coverage. Does all the pooh-poohing of SolaRoad get any more intellectual than Why didn’t you put these on the roof instead? The tempered glass-coated concrete modules have been known to break due to climate. In its first month of operation, a 3.3-foot patch of the 230-foot stretch was deactivated due to breakages, although the remainder of the path remained operable. Sten de Wit, a physicist involved in the development of SolaRoad, defended the idea of a solar-powered bike path in an interview with AFP. “The idea is that we have approximately 140,000 kilometers (87,000 miles) of road, which is much bigger than all the rooftops put together. We have 25,000km (15,543 miles) of bike paths in the Netherlands,” he said. The only trouble is that bicycles and solar power don’t really have a lot in common.
New to the list of job functions up for replacement by technology: bridge construction. Dutch designer Joris Laarman has founded MX3D, a research and development company currently tinkering with a never-before-seen 3D printer that can weld steel objects in mid-air. In 2017, Laarman will deposit the robot on the banks of a canal in Amsterdam and walk away. When he returns two months later, a 24-foot steel bridge will arc over the canal, built utterly without human intervention yet capable of accommodating normal foot traffic for decades. This potentially revolutionizing technology by MX3D and Autodesk can “draw” and fabricate city infrastructure on location, which has radical implications for the construction industry. Far from being makeshift, the finished bridge will feature an intricate design that looks more handcrafted than the detailing on a typical bridge. 3D printing allows for granular control of detail that industrial manufacturing does not, accommodating designs that are more ornate and bespoke than the detailing on most bridges. While 3D printers normally transact in resin or plastic, Laarman’s bridge will be fabricated from a steel composite developed by the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. It will be as strong as regular steel but can be dolloped drop by drop by a 3D printer. The unique printer itself has no printer bed. Using additive printing technology, it “works like a train,” according to Fast Company. “Except instead of running along existing tracks it prints out its own as it goes along.” The six-axis robot can move horizontally, vertically and even diagonally, and can hence traverse gaps like a canal or the empty space between walls. “We thought to ourselves: what is the most iconic thing we could print in public that would show off what our technology is capable of?” Laarman told Fast Company. “This being the Netherlands we decided a bridge over an old canal was a pretty good choice. Not only is it good for publicity, but if MX3D can construct a bridge out of thin air, it can construct anything.” Laarman enlisted design and engineering software company Autodesk to help rectify common 3D printing glitches – namely, designing a robot with a real-time feedback loop capable of correcting itself when errors occur. Typically, when a drop of resin is misplaced, the robot has no way of “knowing,” so that all subsequent drops are misplaced and the design is maimed. Given that the robot will build in public, foreseeable errors extend beyond internal mechanical failures. The machine must be primed to withstand temperature fluctuations that cause metal to expand and even “kids hurling beer bottles at the robot.” “Robots tend to assume that the universe is made of absolutes, even though that’s not true,” said Maurice Conti, head of Autodesk’s Applied Research Lab. “So we need to program them to have real-time feedback loops, and adapt in real time without even being told to.” If successful, MX3D’s technology could open up avenues for unprecedented design possibilities and cost efficiency in the fields of construction, architecture, design, and more.
After a close shave with nature 20 years ago, the Netherlands has sought to reinvent defensive flood prevention. "Room for the Waal" is an anti-flood program in Nijmegen, a city which spans the River Waal, Europe’s busiest waterway, where a sharp turn forms a bottleneck as it nears the city. In 1995, heavy rains in upstream France and Germany caused an upsurge in water levels in Nijmegen that threatened to breach the dikes, warranting the evacuation of the city’s 170,000 residents, as well as cattle. Despite a crisis averted, the city is undertaking a flood resilience initiative focused on widening the floodplain rather than hedging its bets with fortified embankments. Through this floodplain, excavators will carve a new channel for the River Waal, leaving an island at its center. For starters, the dikes will recede 1,148 feet inland, and the resulting widened floodplains will be excavated to create room for a new channel. The island that is left behind presents an opportunity to construct a whole new section of city along with a unique urban river park, thus creating a two-fold tool for urban regeneration and flood deterrence. At certain points, the island is at a sufficient elevation for this purpose. The city is building four new bridges to connect the new island to both sides of the river, while a new neighborhood is rising across the river from the city center, balancing urban development on both sides of the waterway. Existing floodplains along the River Waal consist mostly of agricultural land, but 50 families in the village of Lent will need to relocate nevertheless in order to accommodate the receded embankments. Room for the Waal is part of national flood prevention program "Room for the River," into which the Dutch government is investing 2.3 billion euros (nearly $2.6 billion) on more than 30 crucial river locations to protect four million people who live on flood-prone territory. The approach consists of broadening and deepening floodplains and removing groins that obstruct water flow. Room for the Waal is expected to complete at the end of this year with a final cost of $381.6 million.
This solar-power generating bike lane in the Netherlands wows engineers by producing more juice than expected
Performance-wise, the Dutch power-generating bike path, SolaRoad, has overshot expectations, generating upwards of 3,000 kilowatts of power in the six months since its launch. The 230-foot concrete strip is located in Krommenie, a village northwest of Amsterdam, and is undergoing a three-year pilot test for material feasibility. The wattage generated in the first six months, according to SolaRoad, suffices to power a one-person household for a whole year. Based on this track record, the bike path is expected to generate 70 kilowatt hours per square meter per year (approximately 22,189 kilowatt hours per square meter per year), close to the upper limit predicted in lab tests. “We did not expect a yield as high as this so quickly,” Sten De Wit, spokesman for SolaRoad, said in a statement. The surprisingly inconspicuous solar panels are embedded into the concrete paving like ceramic tiling. Each panel is protected by an 0.4-inch layer of transparent, skid-resistant tempered safety glass designed to withstand the weight of passing vehicles. The pilot test itself will gauge the skid resistance of the solar panel path as compared to asphalt, and to ensure that it does not create any distracting reflections. Over 150,000 cyclists have reportedly traversed the solar-generating part of the path. According to SolaRoad, they “hardly notice it is a special path.” However, tests have shown that significant temperature fluctuations cause the glass coating to shrink, so that parts of it peel away in the winter and early spring. The coating has since been repaired, and engineers are in the “advanced stage” of developing an improved top layer. The 3-year pilot project, costing around $3.8 million, is a public-private partnership between the Dutch province of Noord Hoolland and engineering firms TNO, Ooms Civiel, and Imtech. Closer to home, Idaho inventors Scott and Julie Brusaw have their own iteration of power-generating roads, called Solar Roadways. The Brusaws are building a prototype parking lot in their headquarters featuring 108 panels to test their efficacy in the face of vehicle-imposed wear-and-tear. The hexagonal panels are designed for roads, driveways, parking lots, bike trails, and eventually, highways, and have already courted $850,000 in seed funding from the federal government and an additional $2 million from crowdfunding website Indiegogo.
Affordable housing has been a critical part of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s agenda since taking office, promising to create or preserve 200,000 affordable units over the next decade. At a press conference last week, the mayor announced that his administration has made headway toward achieving this ambitious goal, financing over 17,300 affordable homes in the last year (whether his predecessor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, should have received some credit for this accomplishment has spurred debate). But even with this good news, the demand for affordable housing continues to grow. To help fix this shortage, the administration might want to take a cue from Dutch developer, Heijmans ONE, which has come up with its own win-win idea for alleviating the housing crunch in the Netherlands: putting vacant land to good use with temporary, portable housing. Heijmans ONE designed a one-bedroom prefab house that can be easily assembled in just one day. The house, which rents for 700 euros or $900, kills two birds with one stone: provides an affordable dwelling and activates empty land while construction is stalled on a project. These sleek, pentagonal-shaped homes are designed to have a small carbon footprint, using sustainable wood and solar panels. Once constructed, the house can be connected to the city’s water and sewage, but also designed to operate off the grid. New York City, with its paucity of affordable housing and glut of vacant land, could benefit from this model. Mayor de Blasio and the Department of Housing Preservation & Development have already started rolling out a plan to develop over a 1,000 city-owned properties. In the meantime, why not bring some temporary, affordable housing to sites waiting for long-term development?
A folly in a Rotterdam suburb draws on residents' complex relationship with the city.The residents of Carnisselande, a garden suburb in Barendrecht, the Netherlands, have a curious relationship with Rotterdam. Many of them work in the city, or are otherwise mentally and emotionally connected to it, yet they go home at night to a place that is physically and visually separate. When NEXT architects was tapped to build a folly on a hill in the new town, they seized on this apparent contradiction. “This suburb is completely hidden behind sound barriers, highways, totally disconnected from Rotterdam,” said NEXT director Marijn Schenk. “We discovered when you’re on top of the hill and jump, you can see Rotterdam. We said, ‘Can we make the jump into an art piece?’” NEXT designed The Elastic Perspective, a staircase based on the Möbius strip. “The idea of the impossible stair [is] you’re not able to continue your trip. At first it seems to be a continuous route, but once you’re up there, the path is flipping over,” explained Schenk. “That’s a reference to the feeling of the people living there.” To catch a glimpse of Rotterdam, users must turn their backs on Carnisselande. Yet while the view is in one sense the destination, the staircase ends where it started, in the reality of the garden suburb. NEXT began by experimenting with strips of paper and thin sheets of steel to form the staircase’s basic shape. The architects then turned to AutoCad, where they finalized the design before 3D printing a 1:200 scale model. NEXT worked with engineers at ABT throughout the process. They relied heavily on 3D design software, Schenk said, “because all the steel was sort of double-curved.” Mannen van Staal fabricated the staircase from seven steel panels custom-cut with a CNC machine, said project architect Joost Lemmens. They bent the plates, largely by hand, and assembled the entire structure in their factory, temporarily welding the pieces together. They then disassembled the structure for transport to the site, where the components were re-welded by hand and using a vacuum-cleaner-sized robot. Cor-ten was a practical choice on the one hand because the rust obscures the stitches used to reconnect the seven panels. In addition, said Schenk, “It’s weatherproof, and sustainable in the sense that we’re not using a toxic coating.” The choice of Cor-ten also holds aesthetic and cultural meaning. The orange of the staircase contrasts with the green of the hill. Plus, “it’s a material quite often used in artworks, so of course it refers to the work of Richard Serra [and others],” said Schenk. “I think in short what it’s about is the idea of making a jump, make people be able to make a jump to see the skyline of the city,” he concluded. “We’re using the Möbius strip to express the ambiguity of the people living there: feeling connected to Rotterdam but being somewhere else.”
Arnhem, Netherlands is in the midst of commissioning designs for ArtA, a new cultural center planned for the city. Proposals from an impressive list of four international firms are being considered for the space, which is to house the Museum Arnhem and the Focus Film Theater. Beyond accommodating both exhibition and theater programming, the structure is also meant to act as a link between the city and the waterfront of the adjacent Rhine River. SO-IL, NL architects, Bjarke Ingles Group (BIG), and Kengo Kuma are the four studios shortlisted for the project. SO-IL presented a modular design composed of five units of varying size. A central staircase leads visitors deep into the interior of the structure, while each unit is strategically pierced by large openings that provide views of the river and the surrounding city. In keeping with the two pronged program of the center, BIG elected to place a black box and a white box at either pole of their proposal. These archetypes of museum and theater architecture are fused by a twisted volume and diagonal arts plaza. The torqued form creates new types of semi-protected public spaces in the plaza designated to host the center. Both NL Architects and Kengo Kuma arrive to the competition armed with stepped structures. Kengo Kuma offer a series of offset stacked glass rectangles partially clad in red clay tile, an arrangement that also generates a number of rooftop terraces. The Rhine is metaphorically invited into the site in the form of cascading reflecting pools. NL Architects envisions a more uniformly staggered facade in the form of a large staircase-shaped structure growing in size and stature as it approaches the waterfront. These, too, are coupled with rooftop green space and a sculpture garden, while the steps rest upon an expansive and largely open multifunctional art square.
Dutch firm MVRDV has won a competition to design a new public/private art depot for the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam. While the design has been selected, the fate of the project remains in the balance. City council officials have until the end of the year to decide whether or not to go ahead with construction. The winning design (top) resembles a large shiny flowerpot, a cylindrical glass volume that tapers at the bottom and is capped by a sculpture-park. The curved facade's distortion of the surrounding landscape recalls the way Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate engages its own Chicago context. The need for the project stems from problems with the museum's current depot, which is situated below sea-level and thus at risk of flooding. Beyond elevating the stored artworks to safety, the new design is also an opportunity to make some of them available for public view. A route will zig-zag through the various floors to offer glimpses of the depot for those visiting the space. The path culminates in the rooftop park which also would feature a restaurant. MVRDV beat out other finalists MAD/Nio, Neutelings Riedijk, Koen van Velzen and Harry Gugger with Barcode Architects, though not without controversy. At one point the firm was disqualified due to what was deemed a breach of the tender procedure. They were later reinstated after winning their case in the court of justice of Rotterdam.
After less than four years under construction, the massive De Rotterdam towers, OMA’s grand experiment in urban density and scale, were completed a few weeks ago. With over 1,700,000 square feet of floor space, Rem Koolhaas’ glass-clad “vertical city” is the largest multifunctional building in the Netherlands. Within a 6-story, 100-foot-tall plinth, and three, 44-story, 500-foot-tall towers, Rem Koolhaas has crammed over 600,000 square feet of office space, 16,000 square feet of hospitality space, a 260-room, four-star hotel, 240 luxury apartments and leisure facilities, a 670-space parking garage, and conference, event, and retail facilities for a total of 7,588 individual “spaces.” 5,000 people are expected to be within the building on any given day once residents begin to move in early next year, making it the most densely populated piece of land in the country. While that all may sound overwhelming, the architects have sorted De Rotterdam’s multifaceted program into compact, functional blocks within the building’s mass to provide both order and dynamism, with parking at the bottom, public programs atop that, residences relegated to one tower, offices in the next, and more offices and the hotel in the third tower. The building's diverse users come together in the conference rooms, recreational spaces, and restaurants, as well as the grand ground-floor atrium. Spanning the width of the building, the travertine-clad great hall greets office workers, hotel guests, visitors and residents with 30-foot high ceilings and natural stone flooring. The material oppulance continues across the project, with reception areas and elevator lobbies clad in brass and floor to ceiling windows on every floor. But as the architects at OMA argue, it was not their bold aspirations or "Fountainheaded" hubris that has guided this project, but the needs of their home-city, Rotterdam. “This is not simply an ambitious architectural project, it is also part of a necessity," said Koolhaas at the building’s opening. “We need to emphasize how much urban activity is injected in this place at this moment.” "Efficiency has been a central design parameter from day one,” said OMA-partner Ellen Van Loon in a statement. “The extreme market forces at play throughout the course of the project, far from being a design constraint, have in fact reinforced our original concept. The result is a dense, vibrant building for the city."
Dutch firm DUS Public Architecture has switched gears from soap and water to polypropylene as they join the race (alongside British collective SoftKill Design and fellow Dutchman Janjaap Ruijssenaars) to complete the first 3D printed house. Their sights are set on a full-sized four-story canal house in Amsterdam, entirely printed and built on site by the KamerMaker, their own purpose-built 3D printer housed inside a verticle shipping container. Starting work in the next six months, DUS plan to have the entire facade and first room of the house printed and erected. With the “welcoming room” established, the architects hope to complete the rest of the house in the following three years. DUS plans to use the house as a laboratory for emerging printing technologies and a hub for related research. “We want to build a construction site as an event space,” firm principal Hedwig Heinsman told Dezeen recently, “We’ll have the printer there and every print we make will be exhibited. It’s very much about testing and learning.” Each room of the house is to be devoted to a different facet of research, from turning potato starch into building materials, to recycling plastic bottles and crafting policy. While DUS plans to stay on the site for the next three years, they are ready to move at a moments notice: “We also had the idea that if at one moment we had to relocate it, we would just shred all the pieces and build it anew somewhere,” Heinsman told Dezeen.