Cities are on the Move: Visualizing the Flow of Rotterdam’s Urban Landscape

birdseye view Rotterdam Zuid (c) FABRIC-JCFO

By Joe Peach at This Big City

Google “cities as an organism” and you’ll find everything from TED talks to blog posts to academic papers on the topic. There’s certainly no shortage of suggestions that collective actions in cities are like an urban metabolism.

As infrastructure and citizens become more technologically enabled than ever before, this concept of urban flow becomes easier to measure. The immense amount of data generated in cities can offer us an improved understanding of how everything from water to waste to people to cargo moves around.

Which is exactly what .FABRIC and James Corner Field Operations have done as part of their new show at the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam, which runs until August 23rd.

Called Flow Animations, the team describes the project as “the first visualization of Rotterdam’s metabolism,” creating nine videos (a format chosen because “flows do flow”) that show the movement of Rotterdam’s urban landscape. Three of our favorites are featured below, and you can check out all nine in the series here.




Exploring the impact of the river Rhine on Rotterdam, the Water flow video looks at the importance of the Rhine’s fresh water supplies for Rotterdam. Though the Rhine was a glacial river for centuries, it is now a rain river, meaning its flow is far more inconsistent. Additionally, salt water from the nearby North Sea can change water quality, impacting everything from drinking water supplies to agriculture.

Click the above still to view it in full, or watch the video here.




A city is reliant on its flow of goods, providing citizens, business and other urban services with the essentials they need to operate. Rotterdam is certainly a noteworthy example of this, being home to the largest port in Europe. The Goods Flow video explains how the 220 million tonnes of goods that pass through Rotterdam’s port move through the city and beyond, using waterways, roads, railways, and other ports. Interestingly, though Rotterdam handles twice as much volume as nearby Antwerp’s port, it only employs 17% more people in port-related industry.

Click the above still to view it in full, or watch the video here.



The Energy flow video looks at the energy mix in the Netherlands, along with the energy efficiency of Rotterdam. Fossil fuel supplies in the Netherlands are being depleted, and renewable energy is yet to make up for this. Additionally, all companies in the Port of Rotterdam combined lose an amount of heat equal to twice the amount of the total capacity of all planned and existing wind turbines in the North Sea.

Check out the video in full here.

Conceived by .FABRIC and JCFO for IABR–2014–PROJECT ATELIER ROTTERDAM. Animation by Submarine

This article originally appeared on the sustainable cities website This Big City