Hope in the dunes: a shared vision for climate resilience and the built environment

When the vital coastal defence near the village of Katwijk in the Netherlands needed strengthening, the local municipality saw an opportunity to unite the plans with their desire to reduce parked cars on the village’s streets. The result is a world-first project that showcases how integrated collaboration can seamlessly combine what may at first seem like very different goals – climate resilience and placemaking.
Underground parking garage at Katwijk

“At that point I thought, this isn’t going to be an easy road. But I knew we were onto a winner.” Jurgen Herbschleb is speaking over video call about the early days of what would become a one-of-a-kind project. 

As Director of Royal HaskoningDHV’s Regional Development & Infrastructure team, he had visited the offices of Rijnland’s Water Board in Leiden, the Netherlands, in 2010 to propose a world-first project that would combine a coastal defence and a parking garage in the village of Katwijk: “Katwijk is a historical seaside village – popular with visitors and residents alike for its natural beauty and amenities.” He says: “The village also sits at the forefront of a critical part of the country’s intricate coastal defence infrastructure – protecting it in the event of extreme weather and storms.” But the coastal defence at Katwijk needed strengthening. Without it, a large region of the Netherlands would soon be exposed and at risk from the increasing effects of climate change.

Cars as far as the eye can see

Further inland, the village had its own issue: “The beauty of Katwijk attracts people from far and wide,” Jurgen continues: “and naturally many of them come in their cars. The municipality was keen to maintain the sense of place that made the village so attractive. And so, they were in search of a way to increase parking to lessen the number of cars on the streets and on the village’s seaside boulevard. At the same time, the parking shouldn’t detract from the village’s beauty either. Royal HaskoningDHV had been tasked with finding the answer and it was challenging – how do you make hundreds of cars disappear?” 

Underground parking garage at Katwijk

The Mayor’s on the line 

In his meeting with the water board of Rijnland, Jurgen proposed an answer. Put simply: If we need to improve the coastal defence, why not incorporate the parking in an underground garage and solve both our issues?   

As Jurgen presented, over in Katwijk, David and Lotte – tourists visiting the seaside village for the weekend – were experiencing the lack of parking facilities for day-trippers. With their little car loaded with luggage, windbreakers and camping gear, excitement for a great weekend break slowly turned into an ordeal, as they struggled to find anywhere to park. 

At Jurgen’s meeting, the Water Board couldn’t at that time see past the complexities and risks of maintaining such a structure. They opposed the idea and the project team had to pivot quickly to determine the next steps. Jos Wienen, then Mayor of Katwijk, wasn’t quite ready to throw in the towel. He pitched the idea again at the board-level of the national Rijkswaterstaat (Public Works and Water Management) and the Water Board of Rijnland.  

“We have such big issues in the Netherlands with coastal defences, water management and water safety – it’s driven us to pioneer new solutions.” Jurgen says, remembering that vital turning point in the project: “The mayor understood that if we don’t innovate, then we will have all kinds of issues.” 

Explaining just what those issues might be, Jurgen continues: “The country is divided into several protective dyke rings – this ensures that if a major weather event happens and a dyke is breached it only affects one area.” 
Jurgen Herbschleb

Dyke ring 14, at Katwijk, which needed strengthening, was protecting The Hague, Schiphol Airport and parts of Amsterdam and Rotterdam – any breach would have been catastrophic.

Jurgen HerbschlebDirector Regional Development & Infrastructure

Forging a shared vision 

Enthused by the Mayor and seeing the opportunity to create a world-first project, the parties agreed, and a new project began under the Water Board of Rijnland. 

Having already worked on plans to incorporate the parking garage, Jurgen and his team at Royal HaskoningDHV would continue to oversee it. Arcadis were appointed to handle the coastal defence – and  OKRA Landscape Architects would oversee public space and landscaping to ensure that the project would enhance, not detract from, Katwijk’s natural beauty and setting. 

The project organisation would be led by a steering group, consisting of representatives from the Rijnland Water Board and Municipality of Katwijk – one of whom was Hans van Dalfsen: “This was a bold project we were embarking on and we all knew there would be complexities.” Hans says: “I was there to advise and liaise between teams and the municipal authorities – making sure things were going smoothly, particularly on the parking garage – so I got to know Jurgen and his team very well.” 
Underground parking garage at Katwijk

Stuck between a roman settlement and a hard place… 

Building an underground parking garage alongside a coastal defence and public space would put all Royal HaskoningDHV’s experience and expertise to the test. “We were under intense space constraints.” Jurgen explains: “On one side we had the sea. Then on the village side, there are remains of the Atlantic Wall built by the Germans in World War II. You can’t see it anymore, but the concrete foundations are below ground and so vast we couldn’t clear them. 

We couldn’t go too deep either because there were remnants of roman settlements – and finally, we didn’t want to go too high and make the garage an architectural eyesore that marred the coastal landscape.” 

A deeper kind of collaboration 

The constraints made the collaboration and cooperation between the teams – Arcadis, OKRA Landscape Architects, the Municipality and Royal HaskoningDHV – vital: “This project wouldn’t have been feasible without all three design teams working seamlessly together” Jurgen says: “we were working as equals, without egos. In one instance, I was working with a colleague on the coastal defence team, and we discussed whether we could get more out of the calculations. He said they had been done to tens of hundreds of metres. I asked, ‘can we go further?’ – and there was no pushback, everyone wanted to go the extra mile. From that conversation he went back and revised, and we managed to get extra meters in the design. Those extra meters allowed us to have a parking garage that could be accessed from two points.” 
Team of architects & engineers for Underground parking garage at Katwijk

“The collaboration was very special.” Hans reflects: “With a shared vision on what we want to achieve, the teams didn’t have to come to our steering group with every question, or to debate every detail; there was a trust to overcome challenges in a way that produced the best result for the project each time. We then met collectively to brainstorm bigger questions and solutions as needed.” 

As drawings and designs moved between teams and each of the elements were integrated and aligned, the project progressed. But the final touch was yet to come…  

An architect’s journey 

Richard van den Brule was working on architectural designs when he got the call from Jurgen. As a lead architect at Royal HaskoningDHV, Richard refines and shapes the design of the company’s engineering projects: “Jurgen told me we needed to design the entrances, exits and emergency accesses to the parking garage.” Richard says, reflecting on the project: “These were the above-ground elements that ideally would be the only visual indicator that a parking garage existed. I thought, sure we’d love to design the building – but as Jurgen spoke I could sense there was something very special about the project.” 

This feeling was confirmed when Richard visited Katwijk.  

Richard van den Brule

I was inspired by the place and the people. There were these amazing sand dunes between the sea and the community – and you could feel a strong energy from the sea.

Richard van den BruleArchitect

Knowing where the exits and entrances needed to be, and responding to the landscape and the energy of the project team – Richard had a brainwave that would elevate the project architecturally, to match its engineering ambitions: “I looked at the sand dunes and thought, what if we lifted the dune landscape – like you might lift the edge of a blanket – and put the entrances beneath them; shaping them like dunes so as to be almost unrecognisable.”

From vision to reality

Richard’s idea was infectious amongst the team – but they were careful to include the community at an early stage.

“Our design team created a lot of imagery to show residents what these dune forms would look like” Richard says: “with a focus on realism to give them an idea of their view across the dunes. What we showed was that these entrances and exits would be barely noticeable. In this architecture we were marrying those seemingly ununitable things – creating something iconic that doesn’t want to be seen.”

And the community responded… 

Hans van Dalfsen, project leader of Municipality Katwijk: “I was amazed by the enthusiasm within the team and the Katwijk community.” Richard adds: “From top to bottom, everyone was pushing in one direction. I saw people proudly talking about our design as if it was their own – I think in architecture, if you can make people feel involved to that extent, then you’ve succeeded.” 

At first I expected some negativity, but I think because the teams worked to bring the community along on the journey; it paid off, because people understood it quickly.

Hans van DalfsenProject Leader, Municipality of Katwijk

A complete success 

When the project opened to the public, in 2015 one Dutch newspaper called it a ‘small wonder of the world’. Since then, it has won numerous international architectural awards; while being showcased regularly by the Dutch government as a prime example of the ingenuity of the Dutch when it comes to resilience by design.  

“The whole of Katwijk is proud of this project.” Hans concludes: “You hear it in the politics, from the catering entrepreneurs on the beach and shopkeepers in the centre behind the boulevard; I’ve heard it from my own friends and visitors too. I was proud to be a part of it – to do something special.” 

For visitors like David and Lotte, the parking garage and public landscaping have made their visits to Katwijk even more enjoyable. There are no more fears about finding parking after a long journey. On each visit, they drive into the belly of the dunes, as if they were being swallowed by the sand itself.  Their car safe underground, they emerge into the dazzling Katwijk light and wander the boulevard and through the landscaped dunes to the sea.  

“I love the Dutch coastline…” Jurgen concludes: “and I love it even more now. Whenever I visit Katwijk and overhear remarks of how beautiful and functional the parking garage is, it never fails to make me smile, knowing that I’ve played a part in making it happen.”  

What else can we achieve when we forge and work toward shared visions for society? 
Underground parking garage at Katwijk

By shifting perspectives, we enhance society together.

Jurgen  Herbschleb - Director Regional development & infrastructure

Jurgen Herbschleb

Director Regional development & infrastructure

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