The Blue Revolution: Amphibious Development and the Arts of Engineering a Nation

Presentation by Lasse Bech Knudsen, PhD student at the Department of Culture and Society - Department of Anthropology (Aarhus University)


Floating cities are on the horizon! Many world cities – including New York, Hong Kong, Jakarta, and Amsterdam – are already contesting sea level rise, and some scientists now estimate that sea levels will rise by two meters by 2100 and five meters by 2150 (van Alphen et al. 2022). While building sea walls remains the prevalent approach in many coastal areas, some Dutch tech engineers and architects are working toward a different scenario in which the Netherlands is moved onto the ocean to secure survival and foster new opportunities for societal development. In this talk, I draw on ethnographic and historical material to illustrate how a prevalent perception among Dutch tech engineers and architects – that amphibious expansion is the ‘natural’ next step for Dutch society – is deeply rooted in a long Dutch tradition of solving issues through water engineering. I argue that this national tradition of water engineering started as a colonial project during the 16th and 17th centuries, became a centralised state project under monarchical rule in the 19th century and under technocratic influence in the 20th century, and is now turning into a privatised project pushed by the Dutch tech elite. In doing so, I demonstrate how the current pursuit to envision, design, and develop floating cities emblematise the continuation of a long-standing Dutch tradition of hydraulic technological ingenuity.

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