Sustainable Redevelopment of the Riverside in the City of Antwerp

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.


The water front has yielded tangible social, recreational and environmental benefits thus attracting the interest of many; powerful interests have realized its political and economic status. The symbolic and economic significance of waterfronts has been reinforced where redundant ports or reclamation have provided large tracts of development land close to existing urban centres, in some cases enabling major extensions to the core. (

Filip and lorquet explained Antwerp as one of those world cities deeply attached and connected to its river Scheldt; starting form a small settlements in a curve of the river, and then increasingly entwined with its river curves, growing in to a medieval city. This ‘organic’ and spontaneous relationship was based on the obvious advantages of proximity to the water, but rapidly gained economic complexity in the late middle ages (portus, eliandus)

The increasing of the economic activities accelerated by the industrial revolution in the 19th century required the usage of many large ship, leading the natural flow of the river to be straightened to move for Scheldt quays, as a solution in keeping up with the economic progress and scaling up of the ships between 1877 and 1884.(ibid) and (van de put, 2007).

Straitening the Scheldt River and the subsequent construction of the quays in Antwerp brought about a historical breach in the city’s relationship to the river. The organic and historical relationship the city developed with the river by a developed system of canals, inlets and reimports got disconnected from the Scheldt. The quays became an autonomous ‘intermediate’ entity between the city and the river: an elongated stone and concrete body(fig. 1) The Scheldt quays became the scene of heavy port activities and were closed off from the inner city by iron fences(Nunes, 2011)

C:\Users\Nebeyou Ambachew\Desktop\urban design\pantareinbvba19273.jpg

Fgure 1

In the 20th century the harbor activities again underwent a scaling-up and moved downstream to the north of the city. Antwerp became a medium-sized city with a world harbour. The quays remained as a vacant, deserted and undetermined space, with the warehouses and railway. Tracks as witnesses of the former activities. The building of the poor concrete flood defense wall at 1.35m above the ground level confirmed the status of the quays as an isolated no-man’s land(van de put, 2007, P.).

According to the progress report, The quays on the right bank of the Scheldt are a stretch of 7 kilometers long and 100 meters wide, from Petroleum South to the dry docks Island. The abandoned port infrastructure today forms a barrier between the city and the Scheldt. The redevelopment of one of the most important public spaces in the city of Antwerp is to bring back closer to the stream.(20140301)

With the flood of 1976, the quay wall was not high enough to protect the city from storm tide, and the current concrete dam wall was erected, Climate change is expected that the water level will rise further in the future. This may mean that, in storms, the height of the dam wall is no longer enough to protect Antwerp sufficient, The dam must therefore higher[i]. Thus, the main and immediate reason for the planned redevelopment of the riverside is to protect the city of Antwerp against possible flooding in the future. For that strengthening the quay wall in the first place and increasing the weir is necessary. The renovation of the quays is the biggest project in the Flemish Sigma Plan in urban context. (progress report)

Recently the challenge concerning the city - river relation has got a new dimension. According to the Sigma plan the flood barrier needs to be heightened another 90cm, which brings it to a level of 2.25m above the ground level. It needs no further explanation that this intervention will change dramatically the experience of the quays itself and the open perspective between the city and the river (van de put, 2007) but also require the removal of today’s strip of quays, a 23 000 square metre port wasteland with lots of traces and memories of its industrial past, complete with improvised uses and a slowly establishing urbanity. In order to reconquer this waterfront while making it flood resistant, the city of Antwerp commissioned a multidisciplinary team led Proap landscape architects with WIT and D-RECTA on a competition entry that, instead of a definitive design scheme, proposes a toolkit of possible quay modules that can be combined to form the new waterfront profile in a participative and step-by-step process involving multiple stakeholders (Babette, 2011). Thus, the master plan Scheldekaaien has three objectives[ii]:

- Reconstruction of the quay area as one of the most prominent public spaces in Antwerp;

- Stabilization of the quay wall;

- Raising the weir until 9:25 TAW in accordance with the updated Sigma plan.(20140301)

Project description

The redevelopment of the riverside is a joint initiative of the city of Antwerp, which is responsible for the redevelopment of the quay area as a public domain, and the Flemish Region, which nv via Waterways and Sea Canal. Responsible for the stabilization of the quay, the implementation of the updated Sigma plan and manage the quay areas.(20140301)

“The reestablishment of Antwerp’s connection to its waterfront has been a goal for the city’s planners for more than a decade, but only recently have forces aligned to make that dream not just a practical reality but also a necessity. The 130-year-old bluestone quay wall running along the Scheldt (pronounced “Skel-duh” by locals) has deteriorated to the point where reconstruction is no longer a luxury. At the same time, the entire harbor must be brought into compliance with the state’s Sigma Plan, a regional flood-prevention initiative first implemented in 1977 as a response to massive flooding and then recommissioned in 2004, which requires that the city be fortified to withstand a 4,000-year storm.”[iii]

The Scheldt is not only the ‘raison d’être’ for Antwerp, it is also a threat. Tidal dynamics of the water level are evident far inland of the estuary, and even enlarged by the embankment. The river also means flood threat and possible disaster. Since the concrete wall built in 1978, Antwerp got totally divorced from its river and as it described earlier, the actualized Sigma plan demands a rising of the protection level to 9,25m TAW, 90 cm higher than the actual protective wall so as to make sure the protection of the city from flood. But, further raising the level of the wall means a 2,25m wall above the quay surface that would obstruct all views to the river and render the quay surface hardly accessible. So the new flood protection cannot only be a mere protective infrastructural device.

This year, the final Master plan for the Scheldt Quays, designed by PROAP and WIT architects, is up for approval. In a unique way, the Master plan studies and integrates the flood-defense as a precondition and a structuring element for public space, whereas the desired public space in turn determines possibilities for the flood-defense.

The new flood protection design should provoke the experience of the river. So location and nature of the flood protection are defined according to the adjacent urban space or urban tissue. Located near the river, the quays become part of the urban space, whereas a location close to the city safeguards the actual character of the huge quay surface as a floodable area. Defining the nature of the flood protection - fixed or mobile - it deliberates the views on the river, and will do this within strict conditions of safety, cost and feasibility.

“That process will be governed by a series of ten topographical sections that read from above like the keys of a piano. Each key will address the river in a distinct fashion: one section, resting on pontoons, will rise and fall with the tides; another will slope down gradually from a protective berm; a third will cantilever out over the water, always negotiating between water and humans while including the varying flood levels of the river. All suitably answer the demands of the Sigma Plan while retaining access—visual and physical—to the river”[iv]

The rather definite character of this artificial protection device demands a very accurate balancing between fixed or mobile, hard and soft. The Mobile barriers will safeguard views on the Scheldt and enhance the accessibility of the quay platform (even if the results of the technical study define a minimum threshold of 7,65m TAW or a medium threshold of 7,80m TAW). Fixed barriers reach the actualized Sigma level of 9,25m TAW. They obstruct the views towards the river, but at the same time explicit the void near the city. The sequence of fixed and mobile solutions is meticulously staged.

About the districts

Definition of s.d

The concept of sustainable development is the result of the growing awareness of the global; links between mounting environmental problems, socio-economic issues to do with poverty and inequality and concerns about healthy future for humanity. The process of integrating issues related with the environment and socio-economic aspects was mostly famously expressed in brundtland report definition of sustainable development as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their needs”(bilhood, 2005)

However, it is generally agreed that economy, environment and social equity are three foremost components of sustainability concept.

To ensure that the level of sustainability of urban renewal projects can be significantly enhanced, due consideration to various needs and expectations of different present and future generations is required in urban design process. Urban design is defined as ‘‘the art of making places for people’’ (DETR, 2000). It is considered to be a process to satisfy functional and aesthetic needs (Couch & Dennemann, 2000; Vandell et al., 1989). It gives design directions to buildings and spaces arrangement in order to create a high quality and sustainable built environment for the citizens (Oktay, 2004). Previous studies supported that good urban design could bring a lot of benefits to a community. Various parties are better off as more investment opportunities are offered, productivity increases, higher return can be obtained, more jobs are created, a wide variety of accessible amenities is provided and quality of life improves (CABE & DETR, 2001; Couch, 1990).

Social sustainability refers to maintenance and improvement of well-being of current and future generations (Chiu, 2003). A project is said to be socially sustainable when it creates harmonious living environment, reduces social inequality and cleavages, and improves quality of life in general (Enyedi, 2002).( Edwin Chan Æ Grace K. L. Lee)

The World Bank[v] states that “social sustainability means responding better to local communities; ensuring responses are tailored to local country contexts; and promoting social inclusion, cohesion and accountability. At project level, this means undertaking adequate social analysis and assessment, this in turn allows for adequate identification of social opportunities, as well as adequate mitigation of social impacts and risks, including through the proper application of social safeguard policies.”

When talking about project’s sustainability - from a socio-cultural perspective, it is necessary to assess whether social inclusion, cohesion and accountability were promoted throughout the life of the project. For a project to be socially sustainable it must involve local participation or consultation, in order for people to have their opinions heard, give them a sense of ownership over the project and to make the project more effective within the local context (kiristen and roman, 2014)

Environmental sustainability

“The term environmental sustainability refers to systematic conditions where neither on a planetary nor on a regional level do human activities disturb the natural cycles more than planetary resilience allows, and at the same time do not impoverish the natural capital that has to be shared with future generation”[vi] environmental sustainability then is limited to and in fact becomes a subset of ecological sustainability as it is defined by callicot and mumford, as “ meeting human needs without compromising the health of ecosystems”(moreli, 2002, p.2) in other words environmental sustainability could be defined as a condition of balance, resilience, and interconnectedness that allows human society to satisfy its needs while neither exceeding the capacity of its supporting ecosystems to continue to regenerate the services necessary to meet those needs nor by our actions diminishing biological diversity.(morelli, 2011) Talking about ecological and environmental sustainability we have to consider many aspects combining history, past, current, and future ecosystem needs, as well as to take into consideration all the nature and human changes(natasa, 2014)

Economic sustainability

For Solow, then, sustainability would appear to be an obligation to preserve the present-day economic opportunities (such as productive capacity) for the future, not necessarily to increase them. We may enjoy the fruits of the accumulated capital and environmental resources that we inherit (in the form of the income and amenities to which they give rise), but we may not deplete the total stock. This principle requires us to pass on to future generations what we have inherited from past generations—since we did not accumulate or produce it ourselves. It is not based on a claim of equal well-being for the next generation.

Preserving productive capacity intact is not, however, an obligation to leave the world as we found it in every detail. What needs to be conserved are the opportunities of future generations to lead worthwhile lives. The fact of substitutability (in both production and consumption) implies that what we are obligated to leave behind is a generalized capacity to create well-being, not any particular thing or any particular resource. Since we do not know what the tastes and preferences of future generations will be, and what they will do, we can talk of sustainability only in terms of conserving a capacity to produce well-being.(anand and sen, 2000)

Thus, economic sustainability can be seen in terms of taking the current economic advantage by the nature or space without reducing the possible economic share of future generations.

Political sustainability; the political sustainability of a project can be analysed through the participation of different groups, lobby groups, the extent to which the opposite groups are allowed to participate in the project and the political support a given project has. Projects that are capable of allowing the maximum level of participation and accommodate the different nterest that various groups have through a democratic and acceptable way can be called politically sustainable.


  • Smits Filip, and Alix Lorquet. "Eilandje. A case of waterfront pioneering."
  • Margot Van de Put, “Imagining a new waterfront for Antwerp”, 43rd ISOCARP Congress 2007
  • Nunes, J. F. (2011). Masterplan for the Scheldt Quays.
  • Diedrich, L. B. (2011). Site specific landscape architectural approaches in contemporary European harbour transformation. Portus Plus, (2), 1-16.





[v] The World Bank Official website.,,contentMDK:22608865~pagePK:148956~piPK:216618~theSitePK:244363,00.html

[vi] is environmental sustainability&f=false