We are surrounded by visible examples of our history – fixed and moveable – but less tangible heritage is important too. The skills and knowledge we inherit from our forebears for example should be just as cherished as the buildings and landscapes they leave behind. Understanding our past helps us look forward as well as back to make sure that what we build today does not compromise the needs of future generations.
April hosts World Heritage Day, a reminder to the international community that our shared historic wealth demands protecting and preserving. It is particularly important for the engineering industry to recognise this, as we combine new innovations with robust skills to create highly sustainable projects for the future. But it’s also important for us to reflect on the emotional experiences of visitors to historic attractions.
Our firm has been involved in building and landscape protection, renovation and new heritage development across three centuries for a grand total of 133 years. World Heritage Day gives us the perfect opportunity to reflect on just a few of these important achievements. We’d like to share some of them with you on a short journey through time.
We begin by travelling back to the very start of our engineering lineage. Our first ever project took shape in 1881 under the watchful command of our founders Johan van Hasselt and Jacobus de Koning. The Hertog Reijnout pumping station at Nijkerk in the Netherlands operated for 100 years and became a listed building in 1976. This landmark project set the quality benchmark for every project that followed.
Innovation at Woudagemaal.
Hot on the heels of the Nijkerk project came the Woudagemaal Pumping Station 100 kilometres to the North in Lemmer. This important structure was created in 1916 by architect Dirk Frederik Wouda to drain floodwater from the province of Friesland. It remains the largest operational steam pumping station in the world, pumping one million litres of water a minute. In 1998 it was formally recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and in 2012 we began a three-year programme of extensive renovations to secure the building’s future.
Rather than close the station during renovation however, we exploited some of the latest 3D scanning innovations and developed an exciting virtual tour in the visitor centre. This technology means we can take many of Woudagemaal’s 10,000 annual visitors into parts of the building previously off-limits – areas below the water line for example – and maintain the emotional experience of a visit to this incredible site.
Asian and African Dams – a World Apart
Staying with the theme of water and water management; we fast forward to the swinging sixties and the Kainji Dam in Nigeria. This 10 kilometre dam reaches across the Niger River in Western Nigeria and now sits within the Kainji National Park. The dam generates electricity for all the large cities in Nigeria and protects the National Park and game reserves which are monitored by the United Nations Environment Programme.
It was a similar story in Bangladesh with the creation of the Feni River Closure Dam. This dam was created to divert the flow of water through the Feni regulator and protect the area on the coastal side. The 40 gate regulator was constructed to prevent saline water intrusion from downstream and retain fresh water upstream for irrigation use.
As our expertise in flood management grew, so did the volume of prestigious projects. In 1990 we constructed the first flood barrier across the Nakdong River in South Korea – a critical structure that unusually helps manage river flooding rather than sea-level rise. Two years ago, we completed a flexible redesign that allows for changes in climate, improved river management and increases in drain capacity.
Each of these three dams has enhanced the lives of the societies that depend on them, inspiring local populations to value and protect them for future generations.
Preserving the Past, Preserving Lives
From river water to sea water now, and if you live in a coastal area or on an island, the concept of lifeboat stations won’t be alien to you. But how many of us realise the rich heritage these buildings have? In the United Kingdom, the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) is a treasured charitable organisation that relies almost entirely on the generosity and affection of the British public for its survival.
For more than a hundred years, Royal HaskoningDHV has carried out maritime designs and project management work with the RNLI to help keep this vital service operating. During 2010 alone, RNLI lifeboats launched 8,713 times and rescued 8,313 people.
Projects like the Lifeboat Station rebuild at Cornwall’s Lizard Point exploit our innovation skills to overcome precarious access issues. The Lizard Station is situated less than a mile from England’s most southerly point and is surrounded by treacherous waters. This type of project demands advanced thinking and sound technical competence to preserve the building’s historic integrity and deliver the most positive possible outcome.
Removing our waterproofs now and moving inland, some of Britain’s most iconic buildings can be found at Kew Gardens in Surrey. Our organisation has been lucky enough to be trusted with the restoration and preservation of a variety of buildings, some dating back to 1762. For forty years, we’ve had the privilege of working with some of the most important but fragile historic structures in the world.
In 2003, Kew Gardens was recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Thanks to the attention paid to preserving its heritage, the gardens are set to carry on providing unparalleled visitor experiences for years to come.
Affection for the Underground
We travel now fifteen stops north and east on the Underground system and arrive at Canary Wharf in London’s Docklands. Canary Wharf Station is London’s largest and most complex underground station. Opened in 1999, it was recently voted Britain’s ‘most loved’ tube station and is frequently chosen to appear in London tourist publicity.
We worked in collaboration with renowned architects Sir Norman Foster & Partners to help protect the nearby 19th century quayside and to ensure the stability of adjoining skyscrapers. Passing through the station under a stunning vaulted canopy, it’s easy to understand why Londoners already consider it part of the city’s rich heritage.
Eight years after our first project in the Netherlands, Jacobus de Koning signed a contract with a German trading company to deliver a bridge across the Nile in Cairo. The project was completed in 1924 and marks our firm’s first foreign commission.
Imbaba Bridge is a swing bridge that accommodates two railway tracks, carriageways and a footpath. It was once the most important bridge on the African continent, linking the southern railway on the west bank of the Nile with the city of Cairo. It continues to inspire devotion among resident Egyptians who value it as an important and much-loved landmark.
There is something about bridges and their promise of betterment that strikes a chord with those who frequent them. Their visual impact and design is also of note with many listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites often spanning inhospitable and dramatic waters.
The Jamuna River in Bangladesh is a case-in-point and certainly not for the faint-hearted. At its narrowest, it measures some 15km and during monsoon season, can reach 40km at the widest point. At the bridge’s inception in 1986, the belief was that spanning it could bring much needed economic growth and important social integration for communities on both sides of the river. With a length of 5km, the bridge carries a four lane road, a railroad, a natural gas pipeline and power lines.
We were lead partner on this project in association with ‘RTP’ and provided a feasibility study, the detailed design, tender documents for six contracts and assistance in tender procedures.
3,000 Years of History
A four hour flight from Bangladesh across the Andaman Sea brings us to Indonesia and the Borobudur Temple – a famous UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 1969, we began work on a major restoration project at this important site. Borobudur Temple is one of the oldest Buddhist temples in the world so perhaps it isn’t surprising that having stood proudly for over 2,000 years, it began to show signs of collapse.
We were chosen to guide the restoration work due to our expertise with ancient monuments across projects in Europe, Africa and Asia. Brick by brick we rebuilt the temple leaving it in a vastly improved and stable state fit to welcome tourists for the next 2,000 years.
Back to the present day and the end – for now – of our reflective journey. For many of us, our working base is our office building in Amersfoort – home of our headquarters and some 1,000 employees. The building was designed in the 1970s by architect David Zuiderhoek. Renovations in 2009 helped us achieve significant energy reductions while retaining the original open-plan character. It is with a sense of pride that in seven years’ time, the building will achieve National Monument status; a reflection of our own design and preservation efforts.
Heritage End Note
From an engineering perspective, heritage preservation projects offer a unique opportunity to experience our cultural history at first hand. Being asked to guide and advise on heritage projects is unquestionably a genuine honour and a great privilege.
(Persbericht Royal HaskoningKHV, april 2014)