It took some time, but it looks like it is finally going to happen: the climate square at Saxion. Dozens of students contributed their ideas to the design and plans are in position for transforming the square into a green oasis with potential for water infiltration, and exhibition areas next year. “It is really great to see how far we have come, and how many people have invested a lot of time and money in the project.
In April 2015, Kristoff Derveaux strolled across Saxion Square in Enschede. A week earlier, he had just taken up a new position at Saxion as a lecturer in Civil Engineering after working for eight years in the water treatment industry in Flanders. Initially, he found the square rather imposing as he approached the Ko Wieringa building with its big glass gable and the square spread out in front. However, during his second week he began to look at it through the eyes of a water manager. “What happens to the water when there is heavy rainfall?” Now he asks the same question again six years later. “At that time, no one could answer my questions. Later, when I worked in the Sustainable Areas and Soil Transitions Research Group, I thought let’s make this into a project.”
And that’s what he did. First of all, three groups of students from the Civil Engineering, Architecture and Construction Engineering, and Construction Management programmes set to work on the challenging task of redesigning the square and investigating how Saxion Square could be made more sustainable and climate friendly. They came up with three sketch designs. “While they were working on the project the students discussed their ideas with Saxion’s Facility Service Organisation to find out what the square would be used for and what requirements should be met. They became very excited about the project. The FSO could see that all three projects contained good ideas and they were interested in taking them further.”
A new group of Civil Engineering students set to work on making detailed drawings and cost calculations. After these students had graduated, their work was continued by the next group. This happened a number of times. “For example the students created a 3D parametric model,” says Kristoff. “That means that changes to the design are calculated automatically. For example, if you make the terrace covering a metre longer you can see straight away how much more it will cost and how much more material you will need to order.” Finally, they prepared an investment proposal with the help of some professional parties. The last work group collaborated with a professional designer to help with the final design.
“We chose this study programme so we could do this sort of project”
In the meantime, a group of students has presented their plans for the climate square to several lecturers, FSO staff members and project partners. They are proud of their results. Looking back on the project, they say “It was a really cool project to work on. We are very proud to say that we all worked together to design this square and that the square will actually look like the design in the future.”
It was a learning process for the students. “Experts and companies view your work: that makes you go the extra mile as you’re not just working for study credits. This made it all more interesting and it gave us a great energy boost. What’s more, we were treated like young professionals. We chose this study programme so we could do this sort of project.”
Kristoff knows full well that if you really want to get something off the ground you cannot approach the market with work produced by students. Therefore, it was important that the students should undergo a professionalisation process. “The water board Vechtstromen helped by financing us through its innovation fund. This enabled us to us get the Aveco de Bondt engineering firm to work with us,” he says. “ Together with Aveco de Bondt, the Pioneering Foundation and the last group of students, we looked at how we could parameterise the design and create a flexible cost evaluation tool for quick estimation of the costs.”
They have also asked IAA Architects, an urban development office, to look at the plan. IAA actually designed the Saxion building. “They redesigned the square somewhat, using the same elements but placing them in a different position. The FSO also appointed a project leader at about this time, or perhaps a little earlier. This meant that they appointed someone to see the process right through to the building stage, so it was getting really serious.
Meanwhile, a definite plan has been drawn up for the climate square. A plan which includes sustainable elements, a plan for reducing the 3,600 m2 area covered by flagstones by half to 1,800 m2 (“We still need hard surfaces for emergency services, delivery trucks and pedestrians”), a plan including a great deal of greenery. Kristoff: “We can use trees to create shade, making it feel cooler on the square and by using the right plants we can increase biodiversity. We are, of course, situated beside the Volkspark and if we have the right plants growing on our square we can attract insects, butterflies and birds to the city.”
But one of the most important aspects of the square is the challenge which had acted as the catalyst: water drainage. “We are going to retain water and filter it on our own ground so that the surrounding area is not affected as much by it,” says Kristoff. “And if you look at the design itself, the plan is not really very innovative. The innovative features are in the square itself. There will be a total of three wadis on the square (Water, Drainage and Infiltration), a green ditch. In one of the wadis, we are going to carry out infiltration tests at five different places to find out how treading causes soil compaction. A second wadi will be set up as a dry zone to find out how indigenous plants react to long periods of drought. And we are going to hang up temperature sensors on the square to constantly monitor the temperature and moisture levels so that we get a good picture of the ‘hotspots’ on the square.
The International Water Technology and Industrial Design research groups will also have exhibition areas on the square. Industrial Design may even print 3D benches for the square. “If they want to exhibit something they could measure or visualise certain things and that would make people understand precisely what is going on.” The idea is to set up screens and
develop an app so that people can find more information on how something works by scanning a QR code, for instance.”
The Executive Board recently gave the go-ahead to the financing application. This means that Kristoff and co can actually start looking for a builder to work on the square. “The good thing about this is that students have been closely involved in every phase up until now and we intend to do this during the construction phase, too. This doesn’t just mean HBO students, but also MBO students who come to do their work placements on our square.”
If everything goes according to plan, the builder will be able to start construction work in the spring. “This will be a nuisance but we guarantee that the square will remain accessible. We will have to make sure there is no noise nuisance during the examination period.”
Kristoff is very happy that things have got so far. “I feel truly invigorated by working on this project and I think it is fantastic that it looks like it is really going to happen. It is really great to see how far we have come, and how many people have invested a lot of time and money in the project. It’s great to see that it has become so big, that so many different parties are involved and that everyone is doing their best.
And so he hopes that he will feel more relaxed as he walks across the square than he did during his first week at Saxion. “Even though I think I’ll probably still look around to see what could be even better,” laughs Kristoff. “But in the end I expect to see a very pleasant, and above all, sustainable place where you can relax with your fellow students or colleagues during your break.”