A Waterfront Vision for Harlingen

Improving the coastal defence system of Harlingen, improving the waterfront and water courses of the town to enable future development and to create a tourist destination whilst protecting the environment.

Posted on 2 June 2015


Water is a defining element in the spatial structure of Harlingen, a harbour town on the Wadden Sea. The urban fabric includes several waterways, canals and moats. Its waterfront, which consists of three parts, the Wadden Sea Promenade, the New Willem Harbour and Western Sea Dike Area lacks cohesion, but could become an attractive destination. In addition to this, the sea dike needs to be raised as a response to sea-level rise. 

An overarching concept plan was created and developed further to propose specific design solutions for different areas of the waterfront. The Western Sea Dike Area, which has a pivotal position, is re-connected with its surroundings. In the proposal, the coastal defence is improved by adding a series of new dikes and salt marshes before the toe of the dike, which break the onslaught of the sea and reduce sludge. At the same time this creates a rich natural environment just outside the coastal defence system, which will attract tourists. 

The proposal also transforms the Wadden Promenade into a pleasant place to stay. It offers a double-sided balcony, providing views over the Wadden Sea as well as the picturesque historic centre. New, low-scale buildings on the promenade will create shelter from the windy climate. The New Willem Harbour becomes an attractive public destination. More uses are provided for within the harbour area, ranging from specific harbour facilities to retail and recreational amenities. 



  • To provide an eco-friendly protection of the coast line.
  • To strengthen the identity of the town by creating a vision for its waterfront.
  • To restore the water structure by adding physical connections through the different area’s on the coast side.


An ecologically sound coastal defence system, combined with a restored spatial structure that enhances the quality of the public realm and creates a destination for tourists. 

A promising development of natural coastal defence, a guideline for existing plans and an inspiring scheme for future initiatives.

Lessons learnt

  • How to use nature as part of a coastal defence system to avoid non-sustainable technological solutions.
  • How to use historic features to emphasize and clarify the spatial organisation of the town and to re-connect area’s to become a cohesive whole. An example of this is the re-opening of the old canal on the Southside of the city walls.

Technologies used

“Working with nature”: natural technology to improve coastal defense.

Project location

Project partners

  • BDP