The Water Square mixes the useful with the delightful in a playful public playground. Rotterdam architecture firm De Urbanisten turned a windswept expanse of concrete slabs, into a multipurpose combination of theatre, basketball court, skatepark and water reservoir.

Water management is a serious business in Rotterdam, a city that lies well below sea level. The idea behind the Water Square, or Benthemplein as it’s officially called, is staggeringly simple. Its makers united two municipal budgets that are usually never combined: funding for aboveground public space, and funding for underground water reservoirs that ensure the sewer system doesn’t explode when it rains heavily.

Funding for the former is usually modest while that for the latter is generous, because underground infrastructure is expensive and essential. An odd relationship, thought architect Florian Boer. ‘Most of the money disappears below the ground, where nobody notices it.’

Featuring one deep and the two shallow pools, the Water Square can hold 1.8 million litres of water, thus rendering underground storage space redundant. The pools are only called into action as overflow reservoirs 15 days a year, on the rare occasions that heavy rainfall doesn’t run off fast enough. For the remaining 350 days of the year, the pools form one vast playground.

And the greatest advantage of all is the richly and varied space that locals, especially the 3000 pupils of the nearby school, can use in lots of ways. The pools, height differences and other playful features offer pointers for all sorts of occupation. And judging by the well-worn marks left on the skate tracks after just a couple of weeks, it’s clear that skaters have no trouble grasping the concept of the Water Square.

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