The concept of the MDP aims at promoting innovation and cross-field cooperation at TU Delft. It offers students an opportunity to expand beyond the confines of their own specialization to develop innovative solutions for current world problems. As our project shows, this is not just limited to students from the faculty of Civil Engineering.

Although the project was conceived at Civil Engineering, it was quickly decided that our theme would benefit greatly from a cooperation with the faculty of Architecture and Built Environment. The desire to have a strong combination of strategic planning, design and technical expertise, led to the initiation of the Sponge City Project. Our team consists of six MSc students from the disciplines of Hydraulic Engineering, Water Management, Architecture and Urbanism.

We worked on the implementation of the Sponge City programme, an initiative launched by the government of China to deal with urban flooding problems, due to changed land use patterns and climate change. These proposed Sponge Cities are cities with a large water-buffering capacity to collect excess rainfall and integrate flood control in urban planning. The government has set the, albeit ambitious, goal of an 80% compliance rate amongst all cities by 2030.

Our target city is Wuhan, known as the “city of a hundred lakes” and located on the crossing of China’s main development axes, the Yangtze river and the North-South axis. Wuhan faces severe water challenges such as urban flooding, water logging and the urban heat island effect.


One of our main challenges was making this project truly interdisciplinary, with our individual expertise being integrated in the process and the resulting design. Since designers and engineers tend to have different approaches to design, it was easier said than done. To combat this difference, we held several workshops together to better understand each other’s approach and expertise in addition to the regular meetings.

We decided on a ‘Research by Design’ approach to develop a strategy for the implementation of the Sponge City concept in Wuhan. This meant the combination of analytical thinking, focused on the translation and the interpretation of data, and design thinking, with a focus on the development of new knowledge and spatial translation. Throughout the project, we cooperated and worked with our major partners Arcadis Netherlands and Arcadis China.

By doing this we were able to work on a real-world situation, in close communication with the various Chinese stakeholders. The main part of the project took place this summer 2018, when we were able to work with the team of Arcadis in Wuhan, China on the design of an integrated Sponge City System for the new Wuhan Jiang’An Riverfront Business district or ‘ErQi’.

Participating in this project presented the opportunity to work on an actual assignment together with the stakeholders such as the designers and developers, while still maintaining the academic freedom to formulate our own design in a way not before considered by either Arcadis or the developer.

The MDP course is a great responsibility as the students have to arrange everything themselves, from the project assignment, local partners and the supervisors, to the accommodation, funding and potential partners. However, the great opportunity to gain interdisciplinary experience in the field, while working on your own project in a location that is mostly of your own choosing, certainly offsets this.