Too Risky to Build?

Unpacking the Challenge of Urban Development in Rotterdam’s Unembanked Areas

This program is hosted by the Rotterdam Architecture Month, exploring the theme of the Liquid City.


The societal challenge: The city of Rotterdam continues to deal with the dynamic relationship between the need for new housing and other urban development, and its growing vulnerability to flood risk due to climate change.

Over the past decades, have been built in unembanked areas in the city: Waterfront areas that are not protected by dikes. Looking ahead, the city faces multi-faceted challenges and opportunities: As port activities are moving to the west, more space becomes available in the city for redevelopment, including much-needed new housing. But these areas also face unique vulnerabilities to flood risk today and looking to an uncertain future. This raises many questions regarding where and how to build: Are we growing safely or creating (new) risks through our development choices? What adaptation strategies exist to responsibly grow, and how do we implement them?

Answering these questions requires  open dialogue and collaboration. We are part of the RED&BLUE research programme, a five-year transdisciplinary initiative focussed on the development of integrated real estate and infrastructure climate risk strategies for the Dutch delta. Our network includes over 50 scientists and practitioners working together across a number of fields, and Rotterdam is one of the living laboratories for our research.

Key objectives of the panel discussion:

  1. Fostering knowledge exchange. Facilitate greater awareness and an exchange of ideas and best practices. This will foster a deeper collective understanding of the interplay between urban development and flood risk, specifically tailored to concrete real-life examples in Rotterdam.
  2. Identifying innovative adaptation solutions. Which strategies and solutions define a solution space for flood risk adaptation in urban settings? How can we design and build in ways that mitigate flood risks and foster climate adaptive urban development? How do we understand the trade-offs and paradoxes when building in flood-prone areas: e.g., when is an area classified as “vulnerable to flooding”? Which decisions regarding spatial planning are made daily, by whom, and to what effect on the city and citizens? What roles can stakeholders take to promote collaborative climate adaptation in urban development


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  • 19:00      Welcome by Ties Rijcken (TU Delft)
  • 19:05      Introduction Red&Blue by Zac Taylor (Assistant Professor of Management in the Built Environment, TU Delft; Academic Lead-Delta System, Resilient Delta Initiative)
  • 19:15      History and future of urban development in Rotterdam’s unembanked areas by Cees Oerlemans (PhD RED&BLUE technical adaptation strategies)
  • 19:30      Panel Discussion with Vylon Ooms, Corjan Gebraad, Anne Loes Nillesen and Pieter Jacobs: Unpacking the challenge of urban development in Rotterdam’s unembanked areas from multiple perspectives.
  • 20:30      Q&A session
  • 20:45      Closing remarks by Paul Gerretsen (Vereniging Deltametropool)



Paul Gerretsen
Paul Gerretsen is chief designer in the field of spatial planning, urban planning and architecture. Since 2008 he has been an agent for the Deltametropool Association, the platform and laboratory that focuses on the metropolitan development of the Netherlands. In his position, Paul Gerretsen directs the course of the association, manages the executive agency and is a much sought-after opinion leader and moderator in the field of large-scale urban and spatial development. He is also regularly consulted as an advisor by foreign governments and institutions.

Zac Taylor
Zac Taylor co-leads the Red&Blue program, and is an Assistant Professor in Management in the Built Environment at TU Delft and leads the Delta System research line at the Resilient Delta initiative. Zac’s scholarship focuses on climate adaptation finance and governance in the built environment. They trained in urban planning and geography at Berkeley, the London School of Economics, and Leeds. Zac has helped to translate research into practical insights in collaboration with organizations like the Urban Land Institute and C40 Cities, and their scholarship has been widely featured in the media, including the New York Times and the Economist.

Vylon Ooms
Vylon Ooms is policy advisor on climate change at the Dutch Association of Insurers. In his position he represents Dutch insurers on the impact of climate change. Recently he published the Klimaatschademonitor,  where increasing damage caused by extreme weather is portrayed. Insurers are increasingly interested in spatial planning and architecture: where to build and how to adapt buildings to increasing extreme weather. Climate adaptation is a key aspect in reducing risks of extreme weather. Next to his position as policy advisor, Vylon is doing a PhD on the insurability of climate change at the Institute for Environmental Studies of the Vrije Universiteit.

Corjan Gebraad
Corjan Gebraad attended Delft University of Technology, graduating in Civil Engineering specialization Watermanagement. From 1997 up till now he is in service of the City of Rotterdam in several positions. Until 2006 he was watermanagement advisor at the municipal department of Urban Management. In that position he contributed, among other things, to several waterplans of the city and was projectmanager for the municipal sewer policy plan. From 2006 to 2010 Corjan Gebraad was advisor on public space policy at the Civil Administration department. In this position he was advisor to the Vice-Mayor for Finance, Sports and Public Space. From 2010 to 2018 he contributed to a sustainable and climate resilient Rotterdam in his work for the sustainability programme of the city. In this position he was a member of the team of the Chief Resilience Officer. Form 2019 onwards he serves as strategic advisor on urban management, water and climate change adaptation within the department of Urban Management of Rotterdam.

Anne Loes Nillesen
Dr. Anne Loes Nillesen is founding director of urban design firm Defacto and Urbanism in Rotterdam and professor Urban Design at the Delft University of Technology. She specializes in research and design in the domain of urban and nature based climate adaptation and flood risk management. She worked on the Netherlands, Bangladesh and Mekong Deltaplan, and many urban adaptation strategies for cities such as Khulna and Dhaka (Bangladesh), Kigali (Rwanda), Hosuton (USA), Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam (Netherlands).
For more information on projects and publications, see

Pieter Jacobs
Pieter Jacobs (RWS WNZ) is a program manager of the Deltaprogram Rijnmond-Drechtsteden.


Practical Info

  • If you visit this program, it is not necessary to buy a separate admission ticket for the festival heart. A ticket for this program already gives you access to the floating festival heart.
  • Please report to the welcome desk of the Rotterdam Architecture Month at the square in front of the Maassilo. Here, scan your ticket and receive a wristband that will grant you access to the program in the floating festival heart. If you arrive 30 minutes before the start of the program, you can also take a route through the festival heart.
  • IMPORTANT! Do not go directly to the floating platforms without a (program) wristband, as you will not be granted access.


Register for free




19:00 - 21:00


Zuidzijde 1-2, 3081 AE Rotterdam
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Online registreren voor het event.