A waterfuture for the Brisbane River watershed

Brisbane Water Charette

Brisbane Queensland Australia

Brisbane Queensland Australia

Brisbane Queensland Australia

Brisbane Queensland Australia

the essence

An area as big as the half of the Netherlands: that’s the Brisbane River watershed in Southeast Queensland, Australia. In January 2011, after 9 years of drought, suddenly 12.000 houses and 2.500 companies in the region were inundated, with another 16.000 houses suffering partial flooding. As a result, the region is eagerly looking for measures that will counter the negative effects of climate change, drought and heat stress. Besides periods of too much rainfall, long droughts occur in increasing frequency, in an area that also urbanises quickly. Intelligent water management and water-inclusive design are clearly more urgent than ever.

The ‘Southeast Queensland Waterfuture Charrette’, prepared by BoschSlabbers together with local architect James Davidson and Derk Hoeferling from the Washington University St Louis (USA), was grand and amazing.

the approach

Grand, because the charrette saw 170 professionals working together on a regional vision, from the location where the ‘Upper Brisbane River’ springs, in the mountains behind Brisbane, to its mouth in the coastal area, the ‘bay-city’.

A large group of professionals, from different disciplines: designers, engineers, planning experts, politicians, hydrologists, economists, legal professionals, and social scientists. For each of them, the river and its surroundings are a substantial part of their daily job, but most had not met before. For them, this type of cooperation was also a first, and again, exploration of possible futures by sketching together proved very effective. It merged 170 more or less individual opinions into shared goals and a collective long-term perspective.

Amazing, because the charrette generated both a shared ownership and a shared awareness that water may well become an important trump card for good living conditions in every corner of the region.

The profit

It all started with the reformulation of the question of ‘how to technically solve water issues’ to ‘how to solve water issues and at the same time position water as an integrative and binding element that lends Brisbane’s identity renewed strength’ This turned the charrette from a meeting about prevention of flooding to a meeting also about the addition of ecological, spatial urban and social quality to the region.

The biggest win of the charrette is in the following 5 lessons learned:

  • Start thinking processes from a wider perspective, scale wise as well as time wise. You cannot proceed without a regional approach and an end goal. It is all about the art of coupling long-term perspectives to an implementation program for the short term.
  • Be economical with water: fresh water is much too valuable to waste. After a period of heavy rainfall, often the first reflex is to discharge all of the water as fast as possible. But realise that you are throwing out valuable freshwater that might be of great value later. Retain water as long as possible and store it for use in periods of drought. Only discharge water when there is no other option.
  • In the long run, it is much more effective to work with the water system than take measures that work against it. Analyse the system: knowing how it functions means you might work it to your advantage.
  • Do not accept solutions that just work; look for solutions that both work and add value, in terms of spatial identity, economic viability, ecological resilience.
  • Dare to think ‘out of the box’. If you dare to leave the safety and comfort of your regular thinking – your ‘box’ – and instead stand on top of that box, you will see the environment in a whole new light. This may help to discover new and unsuspected opportunities for a future that is both more adaptive and more attractive.

project data

Title: Deltas in practice: South east Queensland Waterfuture Charrette

Location: Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Client: SEQ Water Futures

Type: design workshops / charette

Duration: 2014-2015

Cooperation: James Davidson architect, Derk Hoeferling / Washington University St Louis (USA)

Image credits: BoschSlabbers

Project code: HB 13-06