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Hi Rise, I can see you! Planning and visibility assessment of high building development in Rotterdam

Frank van der Hoeven, Steffen Nijhuis


West European cities like London, Paris, Rotterdam and Frankfurt am Main have seen impressive high-rise developments over the past two decades. The cities with a longstanding tradition of urban management, building regulations and zoning plans seem to feel the need for additional instruments to control the development of what is described by McNeill (2005) as "an extremely complex spatial phenomenon". It was only after the emergence of a new type of high building development in the inner cities and suburban centres in the early 1990s that the image of high buildings started to change for the better, not just in the Netherlands but also throughout much of Europe. Even now, high buildings evoke emotions and provoke controversies. This has led them to develop policies for regulating the planning and construction of tall buildings, high-rise buildings and skyscrapers within their territory.

This article presents a systematic approach for analysing the visual impact of high building development on a city and its surrounding region, using Rotterdam as a case study. This work is based on a previous analysis that included aspects such as architectural height, year of completion, location and functional use of high buildings in the city. It allowed us to compare the actual high building development with the urban policies in place. The showcase city of Rotterdam demonstrates that a considerable distance exists between policy and reality. The city struggles to deliver a consistent and integrated policy for high-rise urban areas, although the high building developments themselves seem to be ruled by a remarkable internal logic that is not fully recognised in policymaking. By studying the height and completion year, identifying the tall building cluster as it is perceived visually, and by conducting a GISc-based visibility analysis, it provides a context to tall building designs, making the assessment of individual projects more transparant and balanced, and removing some of the emotional elements that often enter into the discussions.


high-rise; tall building; skyscraper; guidance on tall buildings; high buildings policy; Rotterdam; urban design; urban planning; visual impact assessment; GIS; viewshed analysis; skyline; tall buildings; image of city; GISc-based visibility analysis

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Copyright (c) 2013 Frank van der Hoeven, Steffen Nijhuis

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