On the Benthemsquare in Rotterdam, Dutch landscape architecture firm De Urbanisten has finally achieved what they set out to do seven years ago: create a water park for the community fed entirely by storm water. Instead of hiding runoff in underground pipes and cisterns, the square has been designed to make water the main feature. The designers say this is the world’s first “water square.”

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Watersquare Benthemplein / De Urbanisten

Storm water is channeled through stainless steel gutters into three basins. Two shallow ones collect water whenever it rains, while another deeper basin is reserved for overflows from heavier storms. To help people understand what will flood or not, everything that can flood is painted in shades of blue.

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Watersquare Benthemplein / Millad Pallesh

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Watersquare Benthemplein / Millad Pallesh

And all that transports water is shiny metal.

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Watersquare Benthemplein / Millad Pallesh

In summer, if there is flooding, the main basin could become a pond. If it’s not gunked up with oily residue and leaves, perhaps kids will be playing there. In winter, maybe there’s ice-skating. At least, this is the vision of the designers and community. (Apparently, this is OK in Rotterdam, unlike in the U.S. where there would be lawsuits galore).

The designers came up with the concept in collaboration with students and teachers from Zadkine college and the Graphic Lyceum; members of the adjacent church, a nearby youth theater, and gym; and locals from the Agniese neighborhood of Rotterdam.

The say over the course of three public 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 have 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.”

The park doesn’t just work only when it’s raining. When it’s dry, the deep basin is a “true sports pit” as well as a sort of urban theater where people can see and be seen.

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Watersquare Benthemplein / Ossip Van Duivenbode

De Urbanisten also interposes the basins and walkways with green infrastructure made up of trees, grasses, and flowers, all “self-irrigated.”

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Watersquare Benthemplein / Millad Pallesh

See more images of Water Square and other water square concepts, and learn more about the innovative ways in which the Dutch manage water and create community assets.