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Branch Strategy

Roll Deck

Bridging the Elevation Gap between Water and Bank

City of Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Final Project, 11.320 Senseable Places Class | 05/2017

Advisor: Prof. Carlo Ratti, Ricardo, Newsha


Amsterdam is a city thrives on the multi-scale interactions between the land and water. The tradition of creating land on water and the human-scale of the waterways once made canals an essential part of life for citizens in the city in its long history. However, the recent history of Amsterdam has seen the city disengage with the water. With the advent of the car and rail, water commute and logistics is no longer competitive to those on road. As a result, urban activities shifts to land oriented. Space on land became more contested, and dozens of the city’s canals were filled to alleviate congestion. This increasing lack of reliance upon the canals has arguable led to a citywide disengagement with the water network. The autonomous boat project ‘ROBOAT’ provides a great opportunity to pull the urban life and the urban space back, becoming intimate to and reliant upon the canals again. It will also provide opportunities to re-engage with the citywide asset of waterfront lands and spaces. This project embarks on the opportunity to envision the future of Amsterdam’s historic canals with autonomous boat systems and urban sensors. 

The ROBOAT program is ambitious. It is a fleet of autonomous boats in Amsterdam’s canals, monitoring the environment, providing transportation and enabling self-assembling bridges and other urban infrastructures… (Citation). However, there is a missing piece of the perfect puzzle in the blueprint of ROBOAT. That is the transition between the canals and the banks. The relationship between land and water, the so-called interface is actually suffering from barriers that across-scales in Amsterdam. There are physical and non-physical obstacle that block residents’ access to canals. 

The most tough obstacle is the elevation difference in bank and water. As the bank has an important role of flooding wall, in the condensed city center, it is difficult to access the canal. The discrepancy in height between street level and water varies mostly from 0.3 meter to 1.5 meter . To design a flexible and feasible solution that can meet the dynamic requirement of landing/loading people, cargo and the ROBOAT itself, is a crucial task.


The other barrier is the inconsistency between the land use regulation, zoning and the dynamic demand of activities. The access to canals are impeded by parked cars and bicycles or is obscured by waterside obstacles or houseboats. In particular, it is difficult for people in the central area in Amsterdam to engage with the water because cars are often parked along the water’s edge, and houseboats parked on the riverside. 

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