Learning to Live with Water- A Visit with Internationally Renowned Architect Matthijs Bouw

“We must use the things we learn to change the ways we build our cities” were the final words of Dutch architect Matthijs Bouw at his lecture last Thursday. These were inspiring words for the audience and us, the students of the Kansas City Design Center, who hope to make a difference as we near graduation and enter the field of professional architects, landscape architects, and planners. We are lifelong learners in a world that is experiencing accelerated change, and we are ready for the endeavor of designing a society that works with the people and the environment.

The Big U

The lecture Building Resilient Cities: Water as Leverage for a Better City examined the future survival of cities, particularly against extreme storms and sea level rise due to climate change. Bouw presented the unknowns of the changing climate and answered how humankind can adapt to this period of drastic change. Bouw explained that in his home country of the Netherlands— a country that is defined by its relationship to water— there was a period of time where the approach to this relationship was strictly to protect the city against water. This strategy included a series of costly dams and caused ecological devastation. Bouw saw the lesson in this and instead began to ask, what if we design and engineer structures that work with the water instead of against it? He called for designers to learn and invent different ways of building with nature. This concept of working with the natural force of water influenced BIG U, a collaborative project with One Architecture (Bouw’s firm), BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group), and others. This project incorporates ten continuous miles of infrastructure that builds the coastal resilience of Lower Manhattan against rising sea levels and climate events while also connecting numerous diverse neighborhoods. The BIG U was designed in response to an initiative of the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force and HUD, known as Rebuild by Design. The design prioritizes the city’s connection with the water, creates vibrant spaces for recreation, provides nature-based solutions for stormwater, and utilizes urban water storage. To see more about this project, check out this video. If you want to hear the full lecture given by Matthijs at the KC Public Library last week, you can listen here.

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On Friday, we had the opportunity to hear Matthijs’ perspective and advice on our current project, Prospect Avenue Nodal Study, during a studio visit. He challenged us to think of flaws and employ them to ‘create ingredients for successful development’ as well as engage with the community— building their story and the story for our concept.

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We were happy to have the opportunity to host Matthijs Bouw and attend his engaging lecture as well as receive attentive feedback on our project. We hope he enjoyed his visit to KC and his first experience of Arthur Bryants BBQ (he ordered the burnt end sandwich, by the way).