Aurelie Barbier and Martin Blum


Aurélie Barbier
17 September 2009
Duration: 24 minutes

Aurélie Barbier is a French urban planner specialised in emerging cities. Currently working for Urbaplan (an urban planning firm based in Switzerland) she has worked on various projects in Southern Europe and sub-Saharan African countries (Cameroon, Niger, Ghana). Over the past five years, she has focused on the definition of master plan, regulatory plan and slum upgrading projects through a comprehensive approach that includes both social and technical dimensions of urban development.

In an attempt to develop a critical response to the current development of Rotterdam’s harbour we invited Aurélie Barbier to read the plans and try to help us understand the project we are involved in. At the moment there are many different projects being developed simultaneously in Rotterdam and the larger port area, including many new high-rise buildings, redevelopment of the city ports (Stadshavens) and the port extension Maasvlakte 2 (MV2). This is all part of a bigger development of the city that will go on until 2030.

Aurélie explains to us the methodology of zooming in and out in space and time to study processes and developments. It is a way of looking at different levels and scales, to zoom out to get a bigger picture and a wider context, and to zoom in for detail and experience. Aurélie shows maps and research that compares the development of MV2 to other large metropolitan projects in Europe such as the Thames Gateway in London. All this generates new questions and makes us realise that we might be too close to our subject to see much.

Considering the cluster of iconic, virile towers in Rotterdam’s city centre and the size of the infrastructure project, one may have the feeling of a city skyline drawn by an ‘architecture of testosterone’. The speed and ambition of these projects make us wonder if this development meets realistic objectives or if it might be on ‘growth hormones’. And staying with this reading of ‘hormone-driven development’, the successive stages of the harbour over the years might appear like a successful sex-change operation, as the ships no longer penetrate the city, but the port itself now proudly ‘swells’ to a new offshore territory.

Harbor of Rotterdam © FGA