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Water Square, in Rotterdam, The Netherlands by De Urbanisten

04 waterplein ©ossip

A public square doubles as water collection and storage space during periods of high rainfall

The increasingly regular spectacle of St Mark’s Square disappearing beneath the water of the lagoon is one of the more picturesque indications of the challenges ahead for low-lying regions. But what if the square were re-engineered to ameliorate the consequences of climate change, rather than simply being their victim? Perhaps unsurprisingly, this question has been asked – and answered – by a group of Dutch urbanists. Since 2005, De Urbanisten has been developing what they call ‘water squares’, public spaces that double as drainage infrastructure, collecting and storing water during periods of high rainfall.

This example at Benthemplein in Rotterdam occupies an irregular space between a college, church, youth theatre and gym. A sunken sports court offers recreation facilities to the students, and in very wet weather it becomes a deep pool fed by storm water from the wider area, while two shallower depressions – one with a central island of planting – fill more frequently with run-off from the immediate surroundings.