Saturday, May 15, 2010

Engineering geeks, this is paradise!!


Let's evaluate the engineering ingenious of the Dutch using a score from 1 to 5 happy faces. To understand this scale and what it means to an engineering dork like me, let's assume 1 happy face is what you make when you see a kitty cat licking its tiny paw, 5 happy faces refer to that feeling when you see a 1 ton white tiger playing the violin while walking on a high wire and holding the kitty cat with its tale. This being said, let's start the evaluation of this past engineering entertainment week.

Day 1: The Hague and the Headquarters Rijkswaterstaat of the Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management
Score:  =) =) =)
 (Rikjswaterstaat, coffee and more)

Visiting the Headquarters of the Rijkswaterstaat was very instructive. We spent quite some time learning the water management structure of the Netherlands and drinking delicious coffee. The system is relatively simple. The hierarchy starts a very local level with the Water Boards and Municipalities, followed by the Provinces, National Government and finally at the top, the EU. Although each of them have to respond to the higher level, they are independent to make decisions regarding the benefit of the local community since geographical location of the Water Boards and Provinces is highly influential (not all the country is under sea level).

 (The Hague and what we assumed it was the congress building)

It was also a beautiful day in the Hague (SUN WAS OUT) and after leaving the headquarters we took a walk around the city to max out our cameras with random pictures of this European Historic legislation center.

Day 2: Kinderdijk and Biesbosch
Score: =) =) =) =)
I give to this trip 4 happy faces not only because is very cool engineering site but because is a happy place. After enjoying a nice presentation of the Rivervieren Waterstaat (Riverside water board) representatives, we took a walk to the old windmills field. All I have to say is... fun, fun, fun. Starting from the application of this mills to control water levels in the area (raise water from the canals towards the river) only powered by wind, to the mill itself. The appeal of these structures is not only functional but aesthetic. If It were my choice I'll make some space next to the creepy doll inside the mill and live there. Besides, Dutch country side is just plainly beautiful.

 (One of the 19 wind mills in the area and a creepy doll living inside it)

On the other hand, Biesboch is quite impressive as well. I also have to say that it's not as fun as Kinderdijck but could enjoy the several hectares of reclaimed land (i.e. land that has been taken back from the water). From the engineering perspective, this is pretty awesome and you get to search for ghost beavers while riding the boat. I mean, the boat captain said himself that he has seen 2 beavers in 10 years, which probably happened when he had one too many "coffee cups" according to one of the persons in the boat.

 (There is a beaver hole somewhere in this picture)

Day 3: Zeeland province
Score: =) =) =) =) =) .... =D.
 (Zeeland province. My cheeks were frozen and I couldn't stop smiling)

Wow, I mean wow. Although this visit started a little slow and the weather was terrible, it was all forgiven when we arrived to the Oosterscheldekering. Let's not get there just yet, first let me talk briefly about the Watersnoodmuseum (Flood disaster museum). At his point, my colleagues have covered the specifics about the 1953 flood that change the lives of the Dutch forever. After this tragic event, the Dutch decided to strengthen their water barriers and develop a protection plan that could avoid this type of event to happen "ever again". If you want to know more, go back and read about it in my colleagues' blogs. This museum was made as memorial of this event, and the cool thing is that is inside a engineering structure called "caisson". Four caissons remaining from WWII were placed in series to fix one of the dikes broken during the war (that's another cool thing, there is so much history behind Dutch water management development). A caisson is mainly a big rectangular box of concrete, in this case a 20x15x60 m box. As you have seen in the other blogs, the most impressive part of this museum is the the project developed by Koert Davise and Roel Wouters, where the victims of the flood gain a face through personal stories told by their own relatives (

  (Very sad moment in Dutch history)

And after sadness, there is always happiness. We arrived to one of the most amazing engineering structures in the world, the Oosterscheldekering. The Oosterscheldekering or the Eastern Scheldt storm surge barrier is simply AWEEEESOME. A nine kilometers wall built to protect the Dutch from flooding. It took 10 years to finish this beauty, 3 years to compact the sea floor where it stands, costume made cranes to move the wall's pillars, an artificially created dry area to built the pillars on-site. I think I increased the water level of the river with my drool. Unfortunately,  I couldn't exhaust my SD capacity because my camera run out of battery but here is a tiny sample of the scale of this engineering marvel.

 (9 Km of barrier) (Inside the barrier)

Day 4: Maasvlakte-2 and the Maeslantkering
Score: =) =) =) =D

This visit has 1 happy face left because, after the sweet flavor given by these very cool superstructures, there is a little sour side that my environmentalist alter ego perceives. Let me elaborate on this. Maasvalkte-2 is a very ambitious project that will redefine the coastline currently occupied by the Port of Rotterdam to increase its cargo capacity and improve its competitiveness around the world, specially in Europe. A project of this magnitude require an equally big environmental remediation program, and it was here were one of my happy faces disappear. However, when we got the Masklantkering the drool started running again. This storm water surge is probably more known than the Oosterscheldekering although it is "smaller". A completely automated system that closes two gigantic doors, each of one pivoted on gigantic ball joints which almost have the same degrees of freedom of the joint in your shoulder. The system makes a decision based on weather related data and the joint was made with the precision of a Swiss watch. Isn't this cool or what!?!?. As they describe it, there are 2 Eiffel towers automatically closing when a dangerous storm is coming. I definitely had plenty of pictures to spend on this one but I will show you only 2 because this blog is already too long.

 (One of the doors)
 (300 m... seria una locura!!!)

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