The history of Royal HaskoningDHV is more than a description of advances and innovation in technical and civil engineering. It is a story of how, since 1881, the company has worked to help people and organisations respond to their changing environment, enhancing society together.
Royal HaskoningDHV is the oldest engineering firm in the Netherlands. Its story starts in 1881 with a project to assist in the country’s enduring struggle with water. In the 20th century, it develops into an international story, often working in partnership with other exceptional firms in the UK, Indonesia, Thailand, South Africa and elsewhere, which ultimately became part of the Royal HaskoningDHV we know today.
The resulting organisation has a range of expertise that few companies can match. It is a company which was first national, then Europe-centric and is now evolving into a transnational organisation. Today its sights are set firmly on the future, creating solutions to the challenges that are increasingly faced on a global scale: for cities, water, transport and industry.
In the beginning
It was against a background of economic prosperity and investment resulting from the industrial revolution that the engineering firm of J van Hasselt & de Koning was formed. The first project was typical of the quality of work which followed: their steam pumping station to remove water from the Nijkerker and Putter polder was a structure built to last, still in operation 100 years later.
Water management featured heavily in the early decades and has continued throughout the organisation’s history. The company was responsible for making the Oude IJssel river suitable for shipping and optimised for water removal. During the period to 1945, it advised no fewer than 50 water boards and polder districts about how to solve water management problems such as poor drainage, drought and floods.
The young company was involved in steam tramlines, railway lines, sheds, depots and track beds. Later, when the Netherlands railways were privatised in 1992, it seized the resulting opportunities. It worked on the Betuwe route, the biggest rail project in the country, as well as a new light railway, the North-South metro line in Amsterdam, and the high-grade tram link to the Delft Technopolis.
The name, Haskoning made its debut on the company letterhead in 1976, although it had been used for many years previously as a shortened telegram address. In 1981, its centenary year, it received the designation Royal.
A parallel development
On New Year’s Day 1917, the United Engineering Consultancy for Construction and Hydraulic Engineering in Rotterdam and The Hague came into being. This new firm grew out of a merger between an engineering consultancy owned by Mr Heederik and that of engineers Verhey, Groothoff and Dwars. Over the years the federation flourished under various names, but DHV, taken from Dwars, Heederik and Verhey, endured.
Like Haskoning, early activities were connected with water, particularly following heavy storms in 1916 which caused severe damage to dikes. DHV was also instrumental in setting up the Technical Consultancy of the Association of Dutch Municipalities, which led to it being a preferred supplier for the municipal market.
In the period to 1945, DHV focused on municipal projects and industrial work for power plants and for the brewery Heineken, although world events created turbulent times for the business. A major project involving the construction of a new power station in Nijmegen, played an important role in helping DHV weather the Depression.
Difficulties continued through the Second World War. In August 1940, the Dutch Department of Food Supplies in Wartime asked DHV to draw up plans for its first 'central kitchen' in Rotterdam. Completed by November the same year, it fulfilled a need and, as the war went on and the problem of feeding the population grew worse, led to the construction of more central kitchens by DHV.
From shortage to growth
With the war over, the era of reconstruction started. Half a million homes had been damaged, 10 % of the country was underwater and the major bridges destroyed. There was plenty of work for the engineering firms.
Restoration of towns and villages were the first priority. A wave of suburban expansion followed, with road-building, sewerage system improvements, water management adaptations and land reclamation. DHV grew from 50 to 250 staff, working on power stations, factories, canals, drainage systems and purification plants.
There was considerable innovation in building techniques, structures and use of materials. Examples by Haskoning include the Utrecht and Groningen university buildings, the WMN water supply company in Utrecht and the reactor centre in Petten. The firm carried out important projects for mushroom farms, incineration and composting plants. By the 1990s, there were new commissions for offices, schools, banks and hospitals.
De Koning signed the company’s first contract for overseas work in 1889. It involved the design of a bridge over the Nile in Egypt. However it was not until the 1950s that Haskoning or DHV became seriously involved in exporting their expertise.
They were helped in this respect by Nedeco, Netherlands Engineering Consultants, an umbrella engineering ﬁrm established in The Hague in 1951. Both companies were founder members. With access to the World Bank and other ﬁnancial institutions, Nedeco was a major stimulus for the export of civil engineering and agricultural know-how.
DHV’s first major foreign assignment was a study for the development of an agricultural area of approximately 74,000 hectares in the Al Ghab valley in Syria. It involved draining marshland, creating an irrigation and drainage plan with dams and reservoirs, a new road network to open up the area, designs for villages, farms and fisheries, and research into energy supply. DHV also supported the international expansion of its customer Heineken, taking it into Nigeria, Chad, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Zaire, Singapore, Indonesia and even the Bahamas.
Meanwhile Haskoning was acquiring a reputation for designing and building large structures on rivers and coasts. The Kainji Dam project in Nigeria in the 1960s and the Feni River project in Bangladesh in the 1970s were particularly important.
Both companies grew rapidly from the 1980s, partly through acquisition. Among others, Haskoning acquired Posford Duvivier in 1994 and De Weger, which had built up considerable international reputation in shipyards and airfields. In 2003 NACO, Netherlands Airport Consultants, was taken over by DHV. Two years later, DHV increased its participating interest in its South African partner SSI to 65% to become the first Dutch consultancy and engineering firm with a majority interest in a South African consultancy firm.
Projects reflected the international reputation and expertise of the companies. In 2007, when DHV was in its 90th year of operation, it was commissioned to undertake the widening of the Panama Canal. It was in the same year that one of the largest and most complex projects in DHV’s history was completed, the Dutch high-speed train line.
Merger sets organisation on path to address global challenges
To provide solutions to today’s challenges, size matters. In 2012 these two famous Dutch engineering giants merged to create Royal HaskoningDHV. The new company ranked globally in the top 10 of independently owned, non-listed companies and top 40 overall.
Throughout its history, the organisation has responded to the challenges and opportunities brought by the changing world. The global environment continues to evolve and the passion of Royal HaskoningDHV to contribute to positive developments in response to changing needs remains as strong as ever.