The Netherlands has long come to terms with the destructive force of rising sea levels and extreme weather events. The bulk of the waterlogged country is located below or just slightly above sea level, and centuries-old systems of canals and dikes play a critical role in negotiating and living with both river and sea. This relationship is most pronounced, or at least photographed, in the capital city of Amsterdam with its concentric rings of masonry-walled canals, that, after centuries of wear-and-tear are now facing potential structural collapse.
It is an existential threat, and the municipal government is embarking on a massive two-decade-long construction scheme to shore up hundreds of miles of canal walls, and recently signed on the global design and engineering firm Arcadis, in collaboration with geo-data specialist Fugro, to assist in that effort. The duo is one of three construction teams awarded six-year contracts worth approximately $35 million, though the total bill of the program will cost approximately $2.5 billion.
In a statement, Arcadis CEO Peter Oosterveer noted that “The restoration of historical city centers is vital to their preservation, and Arcadis is proud to be part of this important project aimed at improving quality of life for the citizens of Amsterdam. Resilience is increasingly important amid the various environmental threats facing our world, such as extreme weather events. At Arcadis, we have a long history of helping to create places where people can live, work, and thrive.”
The work of reinforcing the foundations of a near-ancient city is remarkably complex. As reported by The New York Times, the engineering and construction teams not only have to contend with the structural challenges of strengthening the masonry walls but also have to disentangle a vast web of subgrade infrastructure such as internet cables and phone lines, amongst other services. Nearby streets will shut off traffic while work commences on reducing the total strain placed on the foundational piles and canal walls, and formerly ubiquitous tourist cruise boats have been banished in particular quarters to stem wake-induced erosion.
Some residents, and likely tourists, are none too thrilled with the encroachment of steel pilings and round-the-clock construction within the historic city. But, if all goes according to plan, the city will steer clear of catastrophe and maintain its unique heritage for centuries to come.