Delta Urbanism is an interdisciplinary research program at the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) which investigates the possibilities to combine flood protection, soil and water management strategies with urban design, landscape design and spatial planning, aiming to improve spatial forms and structures and innovate urban systems in urban and metropolitan delta regions.
Founded on an interdisciplinary approach, in which designing and engineering disciplines activate innovation in design, technology and governance, the ambition is to have international impact as a specific interdisciplinairy field of work. Characterized by a body of knowledge, the work is organized in four research premises within which research, design, planning and visualization approaches and methods are developed to contribute to the making of more sensible and informed decisions within the fragile context of urban delta landscapes.
Changes in any system, whether spatial, legal, economic, or environmental, manifest themselves in consequences that are often unpredictable for other systems. This ecology of interactions is even more complex in a highly dynamic space characterised by risk and emergence such as delta, maritime and riverine landscapes. As an overarching premise, the objective is to research the agency of design at the territorial level – balancing the form, ownership, and performance of land, water and atmospheric systems.
The explosive character of urban development, especially in delta regions, often leads to chaotic and fragmented urban patterns, combined with increased risk of flooding, land depletion, erosion and ecosystem deterioration. The question is how a new (and necessary) organisation of the transitional space between land and water can contribute halting the erosion of the territory and reducing flood risk, while improving spatial coherence and ecological quality.
On the scale of the urban district, the city is considered as a hybrid performative landscape which requires careful re-balancing and fostering new cooperation between the indigenous landscape and the techno-sphere of the urban systems. Synchronisation (in time, space, technology and interests) is at the core of this research premise.
The deep uncertainty on the acceleration and aggravation of extreme scenarios of climate crisis introduces a new level of complexity. This calls for ingenuity and letting go of what is considered to be established. By exploring the missing means of political, cultural, economic, spatial and technological representation, light is shed on viable futures in spaces at risk. The aim is to highlight the urgency for change and put forward visualisations which can drive transitions towards a new territorial order.
Delta Design requires frontier research from diverse disciplines. The act of spatial design is inquisitive by definition where creative experiments and ‘trial and error’ play a crucial role. Delta Urbanism stimulates this research oriented approaches to design – always related to the development of spatial, site, and cultural specific design proposals – based on the rigorous analysis of the ever-changing interrelations between spatial, juridical, environmental and geopolitical systems.
Designing in urbanising delta means that we should take several uncertainties into account: the uncertainty concerning the exact future climate and the effects of climate change, and the uncertainty concerning the future economic, demographic and urban developments. For this reason, we research and design methods which aim at dealing with those uncertainties. By so doing, we aim at addressing short-term needs and long-term urgencies across scales, systems, and subjects.
By focusing on the critical aspects of territories at sea, in deltas and in riverine landscapes we develop theory and methods that explore the meaning and scope of action of new ecologies, forms of living and productivity in highly dynamic landscape. At the core is the deployment of design in disclosing historical processes and political decisions and in projecting new spatial interventions that address the state of criticality and risk.
Drawing isn’t merely a way to represent crystallised ideas. It is an instrument to research and develop potential relations between problem-statement and spatial interventions. It is a mean to get grasp on the intrinsic qualities of space. Eye, brain and hand cooperate. It is a way of thinking.
Drawing helps to connect generic planning concepts and strategies with spatial interventions that are context-bound.
Deltaic landscapes challenge drawing even more because they are so dynamic, elusive and scale transcending.
We consider urbanising deltas as complex systems which are composed by several sub-systems. These subsystems influence each other continuously which leads to an on-going evolution of the spatial form of the delta with different effects on different scales. The sub-systems can be summarised in three ‘layers’: the layer of the natural system of territory and water (substratum), the layer of networks of infrastructures, and the layer of occupation (urban patterns, agriculture). Each layer is characterised by its own dynamics and speed.
In our research and education we try to apply a ‘3 x 3 x 3’ system-analysis of each delta, by analyzing 3 layers in 3 different periods at 3 different scales.
This analysis delivers a basic understanding of the driving forces and the speed of change of each layer, resulting in an understanding of the contradictions, paradoxes, problems, as well as the challenges, opportunities and hidden beauty for the future of the delta.