#02 Eemsdam


53° 18′ 07.8″N, 7° 09′ 52.6″E


Graduation project: Van Hall Larenstein, University of applied sciences
Location: Eemsdelta, The Netherlands, Germany
Surface: Estimated 300 km² 
Year: 2012
Notes: This project won the IFLA Merrit Award, awarded at the 50th IFLA world congress in New Zealand, April 2013
Click here For an overview of the poster submission
Click here For an overview of the jury comment and report
This project was published in the Blauwe Kamer, aug 2012, Special the best graduations of the Netherlands
This project was published in the Chinese Journal of Landscape Architecture, jun 2013, IFLA special


The Dutch and water

A large part of The Netherlands lies below sea-level. The struggle against water that is a result of this, characterizes the Dutch and the Dutch landscape. Since the flood disaster of 1953 a complex system of waterworks, known as the Delta Works, was built that protects the country against the constant threat of flooding. Only two main estuaries were not barred; the Westerschelde in the southwest and the Eems-Dollard in the Northeast of Holland.

Internationaal beheerplan volgens artikel 13 kaderrichtlijn wate


Introduction in the project area

The Eems-Dollard estuary is located in the north-eastern part of the Netherlands at the boundary with Germany. With a surface of approximately 290 km2 it is one of the four major estuaries of the Dutch delta region and one of the two remaining ones with a free outflowing river. It is connected to the much larger Wadden Sea, which extends from Den Helder (NL) to Esbjerg (DK). The Netherlands and Germany still disagree about the exact border in the Eems-Dollard estuary, despite of a border agreement of 1960. Due to this frontier dispute neither country takes responsibility for the estuary and an invisible ecological disaster is taking place. The river Eems is presently negatively indicated as the “yellow river” of Europe. Because of the high concentration of sludge, caused by dredging of fairway.




Chronicle of the landscape

In the past the Eems-Dollard estuary was far bigger than it is now. In 1362, during the Marcellus Flood, large parts of the habitable land where swept away by the sea. In the following 300 years, Human interventions such as land reclamation and diking have led to a gradual reduction in the size of the estuarine area, until it has obtained its present size. This human interference has resulted in an unnatural water system. The main Tidal range has remained the same over the years but the tidal volume is reduced.




Cisis and current condition

The significant ecological importance of the estuary has been acknowledged in 2007 by its addition to the Natura 2000 Wadden Sea area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Besides being an important natural area, the Eems-Dollard estuary provides an entrance to important harbours. The current economic developments around these harbours continuously require interventions in the estuary in order to keep the shipping lane at depth. Caused by dredging of the fairway and the disproportional form of the estuary that resulted from land reclamation in the past, the characteristic gully system is silting up, the water gets murky and oxygen concentrations diminish, thus hampering the development of aquatic plants, marine animals and soil biota. Over the years most life in the Eems-Dollard estuary has gradually disappeared, resulting in an invisible ecological disaster. Environmental care organizations and harbour industries are constantly arguing, as a result the landscape development stagnates and neither can realize their ambitions.



Redemptive landscape response

The “Eemsdam” plan tries to breach this stalemate situation by placing a 33 km long dam in the Eems river, starting in Germany next to the town of Ditsum and ending in the Wadden Sea. This dam respects the unique open estuary system, and simultaneously reduces the tidal amplitude in the estuary, thus enabling new opportunities for the Eems-dollar region. The dam divides the estuary in two distinct systems. North of the dam, at the ‘German side’, a “fast landscape” will develop, with a predominantly industrial character. Harbour industries may be extended and intensified here and in addition the dam will provide opportunities for harvesting wind energy and seaweed cultivation. South of the dam, at the Dutch side, a “slow landscape” will develop, existing of meandering creeks and tidal marshes, with salt meadows and mud plates. At the east side of the estuary, new salt meadows will form a natural coastal defence, leading to reduced tidal amplitudes, thereby defending the land from the sea.




Dynamic future

The expected hydrodynamic changes at the Dutch side of the dam will induce the transformation of the city of Delfzijl into a recreational harbour, inaccessible for large vessels. By gradually moving the existing industry near Delfzijl to Eemshaven, a process that is already taking place because of better development opportunities in Eemshaven, the city of Delfzijl will gain new élan, focussing on nature development, high quality living, water storage and recreation.












Eemsdam as an engine for development

By building a single dam the project “Eemsdam” gives an enormous boost to the ecological value of the estuary and will improve the protection of Germany and of the Netherlands against the rising sea. At the same time new, attractive and inspiring living environments for humans are created, combined with stimulation and extension of economic functions in the region and increased human profits from nature, thus offering important new incentives for developing landscape quality for the region as a whole.


Coastal morphology and hydrology

The open connection with the North sea, characterizes the Eemsdelta. Gullies and plates in this system are constantly moving and changing. This dynamic system is the main strength of Eemsdelta, but is also very difficult to predict. The construction of the Eemsdam will interfere in these morphological processes and new gullies, plates and saltmarshes will occur. To get a rough understanding of the morphological processes that will arise, a scale model of the estuary is made. In this model high and low tides can be simulated. By adding sand and coffee dregs, it investigates how and where erosion or sedimentation would occur in the estuary. The subsequent steps of the Eemsdam design are based on this model.




Zoom in on the Eemsdam

By constructing the Eemsdam two types of landscapes will develop, a slow and a fast landscape. In the design of the Eemsdam itself, this concept is further elaborated. If you look at the surrounding landscape of the Eemsdam, is immediately apparent that the landscape is characterized by the continuous conflict between economic and ecological activity either the natural versus the created. This duality in the surrounding landscape reflects in the design and concept of the Eemsdam.




Concept Eemsdam design

While designing the Eemsdam I’ve asked myself which architectural phrases characterize a quick landscape and what architectural phrases characterize a slow landscape. Eventually the concept is based on wonders. Continuously you will see different characters on both side of the dam, which unconsciously will provoke questions to passers. Passers will wonder how they would like the Eemsdelta to develop. Should the landscape be conservative or innovative, be economically or ecologically equipped, should have a neutral or expressive appearance and so on.


Subarea’s Eemsdam  

In the Eemsdam design there are 5 zones to distinguish, which will be explained below. In response to the Eemsdam proposal I did a reference study on recreational use of Sea dams. The study showed that Sea dams or dams in general, have in firs place an pure civil function. This primary function determined in many cases also the appearance and shape of a dam. Pure functionally, the Eemsdam could have been designed very differently, more simple and clean. However, I tried in addition to create new, attractive and inspiring space for humans. Walking on a dam will make you feel small and vulnerable towards the huge dimensions of this construction and the power of the water. Especially this experience of the littleness of man makes dams attractive for people.

zones eemsdam




Zone 1, The tidal marsh land

This zone is inaccessible for humans since it is fully meant for ecological development. The important ecological function of the Eems-Dollard estuary as a nursery area for flatfish in the Wadden Sea will be preserved here. Thousands of birds will make nests and will find food on the vast tidal flats, in accordance with the Natura 2000 legislation and requirements



Zone 2, The sea-garden

Due to the growing human demand for food and energy, opportunities for sustainable exploitation of sea products receive increasingly more attention. In this zone of the dam there will be roughly 1000 hectares of space for seaweed production. Seaweeds are known for their diversity of valuable elements that may replace land-cultivated biomass and fuels. In addition, 27 wind turbines will be placed here.



Zone 3, The changing land

This zone is similar to the ecological salt marsh land, with the difference that it is accessible to people. A number of old fishing boats will function here as temporary residences. The interior of the boats will have a modern character, whereas their outside will look old, rusty and weathered. Their orientation and position will change twice a day due to the effect of tides.



Zone 4, Breakwater 43

The last rockfilled breakwater of the Eemsdam, number 43, is meant for recreation in an area dominated by emptiness and openness. People are free to give their own meaning to this region. There are only a few basic services, including a parking lot, a harbour, a viewpoint and a building with basic sanitary facilities. This subdivision of the Eemsdam offers an interesting and exciting space to the recreating public.



Zone 5, The end

A walk from breakwater 43 to the end point of the Eemsdam in the Wadden Sea will induce an increasing tension along the route. In these last five kilometres all human dimensions disappear. One feels small and vulnerable on the long but narrow profile of the dam. At the endpoint, however, you will be rewarded with a fantastic view. The waves and crests stretch up to the horizon and you can see the curvature of the earth.





Detail Breakwater 43

As a final clarification of the Eemsdam design I have made a detailed design of Breakwater 43​​. Breakwater 43 is the last concrete Breakwater connected to the Eemsdam. The area has a recreational function, different compared to the rest of the dam. The parking place is the central point in the design. Around the parking place all other functions are designed. The area around breakwater 43 will be characterized by emptiness. I am convinced that by designing empty spaces and areas, people are free to give their own meaning to these areas and that they will also do this naturally.




Appearance Breakwater 43

The appearance of Breakwater 43 will be robust, reliable and straightforward. There are only a few basic facilities designed: parking space, harbor, observation point, sprayed beach and a building with basic service facilities. Here the design challenge is not to find the perfect organic shape or line but on the contrary it is to find the most civil, technical and most functional shape. In terms of materialization the same story applies. Cheap but quality materials will be used, mainly basalt and concrete.




Concrete observation point

As final detail of the Eemdam design I have included a concrete object. This object functions as observation point and is lokaded on top op the lookout hill. This object is intended to strengthen the function of my concept, namely to get people to think about the development of the Ems-Dollard estuary. It is an art object based on a design of Fokke the Kam.


The wind blows relentless in you face when you climb to the top of the lookout hill. In the distance you can already see a concrete structure appear. The climb to the top goes through worn out eroded pathways, which spontaneously emerged in the sandy material. The hill gives you a good overview of the Eemsdelta estuary. From this height, you can orient yourself properly. But when you walk through the concrete object you will suddenly lose all sense of scale and orientation. The concrete walls and the confined space between them force you to look back into yourself. Then suddenly your eyes wander between the concrete walls showing the vast and endless landscape of the Eemsdelta estuary again.






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