RE - Sponse



Globalisation in the Greater Bay Area fueled a development model primarily based upon the advancement of economic prosperity for the core cities, overlooking environmental and societal vulnerabilities. Significant policy changes and strong market forces ignited immense competition between cities, resulting in an uneven developed and environmentally at-risk region. Cities in the Greater Bay Area cannot cope with these risks alone, and the fragmented landscape cannot provide cities with the resilience to tackle environmental changes. Hence, loss becomes a part of everyday life, causing more unstable and uncertain social structures for existing migrant populations.

This status quo has become a factor in limiting the continued development of the Greater Bay Area. The core cities have developed rapidly and reached their capacity limits, while most other cities, which currently rely on traditional industry and agriculture, continue to take on the continuous destruction of the environment as the price of economic development. This model is ultimately unsustainable, and the environment as a whole system will endanger the Greater Bay Area.

Based on the Dutch layer approach, an understanding of the mismatch between the human systems' occupational levels and the environment's natural base is created. Therefore the identity of the delta region asks for reconsidering the behavior of networks and infrastructure. This way, green, blue, and grey infrastructural systems become the backbone of the transitions towards an adaptive delta.

In order to redistribute the burdens and benefits of environmental mitigation and integration, the concept of cross-border cooperation becomes imperative to reconnect scales, identities, and layers. As environmental risks act without considering natural and human edges, cross-border 'environmental' cooperation creates a sustainable base for negotiation and reconciliation.

To facilitate a transition towards a sustainable and adaptable delta region of the GBA, redefining the edge relationships between human and natural areas becomes essential. Therefore, transforming the Greater Bay Area into a 'sponge region' and restoring the region's ability to absorb increasing environmental and societal pressures throughout the different scales of cross-border actions in the region. This 'sponge region' will be apparent along the edges, connecting, mitigating, moving, and integrating a revitalised natural and adaptive Delta region.


The Team

Larissa Müller is an American student who obtained her Bachelor's degree in Architecture from Cal Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California. Coming from a background in human scale design, she is interested in broadening her understanding of how larger scale projects can impact societies across the world.

Zhihao Ruan is a Chinese student who obtained his bachelor of Landscape Architecture in a misty city surrounded by mountains. He understands cities from landscape's perspective , trying to preserve the localization of different regions in the tide of globalization.

Jens Berkien is a Dutch student who did his bachelor of Architecture at the TU Delft. As a proud Dutchman, he tries to implement water mitigation and environmental risk strategies to the Greater Bay Area. As the GBA can be seen as a complex Delta region, he tries to balance the interplay between human and natural systems to create an adaptive Delta Landscape.

Ziqi XU is a Chinese student who finished her bachelor of Arts in Policy Science at Ritsumeikan University in Japan. With the background of seeing urbanism in a more social and cultural perspective, she is trying to understand more about how to spatialize and adapt these ideas with the urban living environment.

KuanTing Liu is a Taiwanese student who finished her bachelor of Urban Planning at Cheng Kung University in Taiwan. As an urban planner interested in environmental planning, she wants to hone her skills in large-scale planning, integrating with urban design knowledge in a time full of worldwide uncertainty.


The Quest

Societal Risks

"Flood sensitivity is expressed in terms of the situation of disadvantaged people in PRD cities where seasonal migrant workers with temporary jobs, laid-off workers, and other low-income people (fishermen, women, self employed, etc.) are most sensitive to hazards and most difficult to recover." 

(Yang, L., Scheffran, J., Qin, H., & You, Q., 2015)

Uneven Economic Structures

“Global city formation is 'discontinuous' remains the national economy, understood as a territorially self-enclosed system of cities organized hierarchically within the national scale.”

(Brenner, N., 2010)

Environmental Vulnerability

"Where fixing the future implies the reparation of environmental qualities and closing environmental flows within the urban boundaries, indulging the future focuses on the creation of sufficient space to accommodate the possible spatial impacts of unprecedented events and change."

(Roggema, R., 2016)


The Challenge

How to facilitate a resilient delta region, balancing societal and environmental risks through cross-border collaboration?

How to protect the (potential) climate migrant population while simultaneously reconnecting the delta landscape?
How does the revitalization of the natural systems foster an evenly developed region?
How to restructure transitional areas between natural and urban edges to mitigate the environmental risks and increase social capacity of the region?

The Game

Morphological Edge Game Principles

The edge morphological game was an exploration upon the different edge conditions between the environmental and social fabrics that make up the GBA. Using the edges as tools, players involved in the game then change or create edges upon their own needs. To play the game, four base principles are created:

  1. Three Environmental Disasters that set up the focus for each round;

  2. Three Players (Environment, Social, GBA) that act and react to create/change edges;

  3. The Gameboard of the GBA with existing edges and environmental risks mapped;

  4. The Edge Toolbox which sets limitations and guidelines on player's actions.

The Process

Through the morphological game, the newly created strategic edge conditions and the interplay of an action-reaction dialogue leads us towards an overall vision, rebalancing the burdens and benefits of the human and natural systems throughout the GBA.

The environmental edges were formed by introducing the so-called ‘Building with Nature’ principle, resulting in interventions based on nature-based solutions, creating or mitigating space to the natural systems. The only way for the social and urban structures of the human systems is to react to the changing spatial situation, either countering or working with the nature-based solutions projected on the Greater Bay Area.

Final Findings for the Morphological Game

The placement of strategic edges to mitigate climate and environmental risks highlighted important strategic locations where multiple risks could be mitigated at once. By already looking at nature-based and urban strategies during the game a spatial dimension to the game was created, therefore making the dialogue between the natural and human systems more real.

During the process, it became apparent that edges have different interactions with each other when considering various scales. Whereas a regional edges tries to seek connections between grey, green and blue systems, local edges seek to integrate by combining natural and human systems into spatial designs. This base is further reflected in the overall vision and corresponding strategies.

The Vision

Vision Map

The rebalancing of the human and natural systems takes form in an integral regional vision realised through nature-based solutions and urban and rural reaction strategies within ten central strategic project locations.

With the increasing uncertainties of climate and environmental disasters, the uneven development within the GBA area has become more severe. Since the administrative border can not define the impact of climate and environmental disasters, the idea of creating a more resilient environment and a more fair socio-economic structure should also follow this logic of "cross-border." To realise the prevention of future disasters and redistribute resources, space, knowledge, and human and financial capital, 10 strategic locations built up 5 GBA programs are developed. River flooding mitigation, landslides prevention, sea-level rise prevention, Transit-Oriented Development/ new cluster creation, and revitalisation of the agricultural value are tackling environmental prevention and socio-economic restructure. Besides, through different layers and cross-border cooperation, a more efficient and adaptive strategical knowledge network integrating unknown knowledge from the local conditions can create more value than only top-down planning.

Understanding the natural systems is directly connected to nature-based solutions, which help prevent and mitigate increasing environmental and climate risks. These nature-based solutions can either act based on direct prevention measurements, like the strengthening of dikes or the terracing of mountain ridges, or mainly directed as mitigation measurements, like creating wetlands, extending the water systems, or dune creation protecting urban areas, while also revitalising ecological life.

In addition, socio-economic strategies are essential to solving the increasing number of immigrants and uneven development within cities. It includes increasing the accessibility of the major cities, creating a multi-functional character of the urban area, building adaptive development to protect sensitive regions, and creating networks and new clusters to reallocate social functions and reinvigorate rural Chinese practice to the next level.

Climate migrants might become the majority in the future if the power of climate and environmental disasters and the injustice caused by unbalanced socio-economic development got neglected. However, a better foundation to mitigate environmental risks and a rebalanced and multi-functional urban environment could prevent not only the potential climate migrants created by environmental uncertainty but also release the pressure from core cities, reducing migrants caused by the push force from the rural and increasing the cities capacities.

Process Diagram

Edges through Scales

In order to embed an absorbing ability of the Greater Bay Area, allocation place for the revitalisation of the natural systems, the edge conditions from the game take different forms at different scales.

  • On a regional level, the strategic edge conditions take place along infrastructural and natural networks of grey, green and blue, providing a foundation for the (re)connection of urban, social, natural, ecological and water structures.

  • On a city level the edges of grey, blue and green infrastructural networks act to protect and mitigate increasing environmental and climate disasters and ensure a safe environment for the people of the Greater Bay Area.

  • Within the city, on a district level, edges will act to blur and intertwine different urban and natural landuses. Therefore, a framework is created to redistribute urban and natural functions within the cities, creating new places where urban and natural systems will function hand-in-hand.

  • On a local level the revitalised and integrated natural and human networks, create the possibility to integrate human and natural areas with each other, allocating places for the natural system to reduce the effect of environmental and climate disasters. On the other hand, urban and social systems for the migrant population are reconnected to a regional level, making it possible for everyone to climb the social ladder.

Environmental / Socio-Economic Strategies

Two perspectives of strategies have developed following the idea of environmental intervention first and then the socio-economic intervention response, which we tested in the previous game. By following this idea, we can ensure that environmental prevention will be considered a priority in the longer timeframe before over-urbanisation happens. Large categories are the design principle for district-scale intervention, while smaller categories are the intervention when we zoom in to the ten specific areas.

Ranking System / GBA Projects

The ranking system evaluates how strategies implemented within cities perform. There are five indexes based on the complexity (number of interventions), added value ( number of the intervention categories), city level, project time consumption (projects' scales), and disaster prevention rate.

Through this, we can understand the similarities and differences between cities, showing the opportunities and possibility to cooperate through the GBA scale projects, building up cross-border cooperation. For instance, cooperating might speed up the intervention process if cities have parallels in the project content and scale. On the other hand, differences can also be a chance to redistribute resources through the GBA project. On top of that, a regional scale of environmental prevention and socio-economic restructure will be created.

Five different GBA projects are developed through the ranking system: River Flooding Mitigation, Landslide Prevention, Sea-Level Rise Prevention, TOD/ New Cluster, and Agriculture Value.

GBA Strategy Stakeholders

Zhongshan under Typhoon Risk

Zhongshan - Mitigating Sea-level rise, protecting and creating development

The first key location is on the eastern coastline of Zhongshan, right next to the south border of Guangzhou. It is an urbanised area mixed with manufacturing, industries, and residential. However, it is under heavy environmental and climate risk, facing sea-level rise and riverine flooding. A set of actions will be taken to protect the coastline and increase the capacity of the risk mitigation of the city, which will also prevent and mitigate the possible effects on the current migrant population living on the border of urban-rural edges. This key location reflects our essential vision of socio-economic strategies and nature-based solutions in terms of making full use of urban spaces and functions to coexist with water, following the solid Chinese knowledge of the sponge city.

Environmental Action - Urban Reaction Diagram

In order to rebalance socio-economic development, the action of environmental risk mitigation is the priority. In the south, to protect vital industrial and economic zones, the implementation of structural protection measures through different dike systems (strengthen dike, climate dike, etc.). The adaptive spatial design, such as flood-able quays, revetments, and floating islands, will provide strong, quick protection and create room for water. Besides, natural buffer zones, wetlands, ecological parks, and green connections will protect the transitional area and viability of the city.

The new high-speed railways will increase the connection between cities in the north and south, while the Transit-Oriented Development strengthens social connections between the rural areas in the north and the urban residents in the south. These will create the opportunity for a large migrant population in urban villages to connect to an integral system whilst retaining the rural cultural structure.


Zhongshan Zoom-in Edges


The axo drawing on the left is the detailed design of the port area within Zhongshan. With the climate dike, compartment dike, safe terp, and other adaptive facilities, the urban environment will be protected when flooding comes from the sea. On the right side, the sponge city is created by integrating nature and the human system, mitigating the disaster risks and maintaining the Chinese culture simultaneously.


Zhongshan Intervention Timeline


Shenzhen under Landslide Risk

Shenzhen - Preventing landslide risks, containing an equal development

The second key location is located on the border of Shenzhen and Dongguan. With the fast forces of urbanisation and economic development, this area faces the challenge of uneven social development, which facilitates spatial segregation and gentrification of the large migrant populations in this region. At the same time, the landslide risk is a devious but important environmental challenge, causing damages and destruction to cities and social structures. To prevent landslide risks and contain an equal development, green and grey infrastructures will be created to improve the connections crucial ability of the location and empower the regional cooperations.

Environmental Action - Urban Reaction Diagram

To protect the areas of Shenzhen north, direct protection measures are made to cope with the increasing potential of landslides due to the overdeveloping and uncertain changes within future climate systems. Therefore space is allocated to protect areas with structural ridge restoration solutions and mitigate by providing natural buffer zones between mountainous and urban areas that can absorb the increasing intensive rainfalls whilst reestablishing green and ecological corridors in the future. New additions to the water systems in the form of water connections will provide more urban catchment areas that prevent flooding for residents and important infrastructural and economic structures.

Furthermore, the allocation of recreational space will facilitate a suitable living environment for the current migrant population. The developmental strategies will compensate for the relocation of urban functions from the mountainsides alongside the (new) infrastructural axis of rail and road. New Transit-Oriented Development strategies will provide the opportunity to expand and contain space for the increasing migration patterns.


Shenzhen Zoom-in Edges


Terracing and vegetation restoration is the essential strategies to prevent landslides. New side branches of the river help release the water pressure from the mountain, helping absorb and drain over-flow water whenever intensive rainfall comes. In addition, the picture on the left shows urban expansion alongside the transportation line, while the right shows the urban densification around the important transit area.


Shenzhen Intervention Timeline


Jiangmen under River Flooding risk

Jiangmen - Mitigate Flooding, revitalise rural densification

The last key location is on the border of higher mountains in the north and the delta in the Jiangmen south, with the economy of the city concentrated within the first and second-tier industries. On the other hand, river flooding will be a big challenge to the area’s future development. According to the GBA development plan, Jiangmen has a high potential of being further developed to house the increasing flux of populations to the region. The opportunity arises to create a balanced part, facilitating good living space for the potential large influx of migrants. Therefore, the critical strategy is to densify multi-functional urban areas, innovate and intensify agriculture production, and create a more capable and adaptive water system in the transitional regions between nature and humans.

Environmental Action - Urban Reaction Diagram

The agricultural practice is embedded within Jiangmen, so expanding the region's paddy field and fish pond practices can be vital in absorbing environmental risks related to floods and droughts. Therefore, the attention is fixed on establishing new knowledge centres related to high-tech agriculture and water management, providing newly created developmental opportunities to shift the focus mainly on the first-tier cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen to the third-tier city of Jiangmen.

Besides the new multifunctional use of the agricultural practice as a social and environmental catalyser in disaster management, mitigation strategies alongside the current water system are still necessary to protect urban functions and structures. Structural, 'green' mitigation solutions and the expansion of the water infrastructures are implemented alongside the rivers, providing absorbing space and recreational abilities. Densification alongside the infrastructural axis contains development that integrates natural and human systems, reallocating space for urban farming and water catchment areas that improve the quality of life.

Jiangmen Zoom-in Edges


The axo on the left shows the intensification of agricultural practice with new innovative knowledge centres, going hand in hand with natural buffers that protect urban and rural facilities with wetlands and green infrastructure. On the right the rural areas of the Chinese paddy field practice are revitalised, which simultaneously helps absorbing more water during floods and drought periods. New TOD development will facilitate an increase in economic and residential structures of Jiangmen.


Jiangmen Intervention Timeline

A Sponge GBA: Absorbing into an adaptive and safe Delta

To ensure a safe environment for the people of the Greater Bay Area and improve the unstable lives of immigrants that are potential climate migrants in the future, it is imperative to revitalise the natural systems that made the delta region as it is today. Using the principles of cross-border actions, strengthening the natural systems, and integrating with compact cities, an integral vision is created connected throughout its scales, systems, layers, and socio-economic structures and practices.