Close Encounters with Water

For some inventive landscape architects and architects in Europe, water bodies have presented an opportunity to create memorable, immersive experiences for the public. Instead of creating bridges that traverse lakes and moats, these projects bring cyclists and pedestrians through the water, creating seamless access to nature preserves and historic sites.

Limburg, Belgium, which is in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of the country, has developed 1,240 miles (2,000 kilometers) of bicycle trails, which attract two million cyclists annually. The area is known in Europe as a “bicycling paradise,” according to the Limburg tourism bureau.

In De Wijers, a vast 1,730 acre (700 hectare) nature preserve comprised of lakes, there were areas difficult to reach for cyclists through existing trails. To improve access to Bokrijk, which includes a 19th-century castle, open-air museum, and arboretum set within the nature preserve, landscape architecture firm Burolandschap and architecture firm Lens°ass Architecten created an ingenious path — Cycling Through Water, which cuts directly through one of the lakes.

Cycling Through Water / © luc dalemans
Cycling Through Water / © luc dalemans

The concrete-lined path is 695 feet (212 meters) long and nearly 10 feet (3 meters) wide, and its top is designed to be level with the surrounding lake, creating an infinity effect from the distance. Burolandschap states that since the path opened in 2018, more than 300,000 cyclists have used it.

Cycling Through Water / © luc dalemans

To anticipate and address concerns raised about carving the path through a nature preserve, the city of Limburg paired the project with an expansive restoration and conservation effort in the surrounding lake district, which included the development of new lakes. Burolandschap found that the project resulted in “improvements of the water quality and a significant increase in the habitat of amphibians.”

Cycling Through Water / Burolandschap

The dikes were remodeled, which creates “purer water” in the lakes. And below the concrete path, Burolandschap created an amphibian crossing of sorts that lets the animals move to other areas of the lake.

The Limburg tourism bureau said Cycling Through Water is increasing tourism to Bokrijk in a safe and sustainable way. The base of the cycling path is constructed with slip-resistant tiles, which work “even when there is frost.” The path also extends car-free access to the castle and its surrounding sites, further privileging the bicycle, a very low-carbon form of transportation.

Cycling Through Water / © luc dalemans

Another recent project designed for pedestrians similarly cuts through water in dramatic fashion. Moses Bridge in Halsteren, The Netherlands by RO&AD Architecten is a path through the West Brabant Water line, a defensive system from the 17th century made up of fortresses and moats.

Moses Bridge / RO&AD Architecten

To help pedestrians reach Fort de Roovere, a recently restored fortress, RO&AD Architecten designed a low-impact “invisible bridge” made of wood and waterproofed with EPMD foil.

Moses Bridge / RO&AD Architecten

“The bridge lies like a trench in the fortress and the moat, shaped to blend in with the outlines of the landscape,” RO&AD states.

Moses Bridge / RO&AD Architecten

The top of the bridge meets the actual water line, so the structure can’t be seen from a distance and doesn’t mar the view of the historic landscape. But “when you get closer, the fortress opens up to you through a narrow trench. You can then walk up to its gates like Moses on the water.”

Moses Bridge / RO&AD Architecten

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