Working with layers, times, scales

3 layers x 3 time x 1 scale
Courtesy of Sahil Kanekar. San Francisco Bay, California. D-i 2016-2017 Adaptation by Design


We consider urbanising deltas as complex systems, which are composed by several sub-systems. These subsystems influence each other continuously, which leads to an on-going evolution of the spatial form of the delta, with different effects on different scales. The sub-systems can be summarised in three ‘layers’: the layer of the natural system of territory and water (‘substratum’), the layer of networks of infrastructures, and the layer of occupation (urban patterns, agriculture). Each layer is characterised by its own dynamics and speed.

In our research and education we try to apply a ‘3 x 3 x 3’ system-analysis of each delta, by analyzing 3 layers in 3 different periods at 3 different scales.

This analysis delivers a basic understanding of the driving forces and the speed of change of each layer, resulting in an understanding of the contradictions, paradoxes, problems, as well as the challenges, opportunities and hidden beauty for the future of the delta.


  • McHarg, Ian, 1969, Design with Nature, New York: Natural History Press
  • Meyer, Han, Steffen Nijhuis, 2016: Designing for Different Dynamics: The search for a new practice of planning and design in the Dutch delta, in Juval Portugali, Egbert Stolk eds., Complexity, Cognition, Urban Planning and Design, Berlin: Springer