With a third of the Netherlands below sea level, much of the country is at risk of flooding. The Afsluitdijk, a 32-kilometer (20-mile) dam, has long been one of the country’s key defenses against the sea.
But with climate change causing rising sea levels and more frequent and more catastrophic storms, the 89-year-old Netherlands dike is in need of reinforcement. Levvel, a consortium of companies including Van Oord Aberdeen Infrastructure Partners B.V. and BAM PPP PGGM Infrastructure Coöperatie U.A., is using building information modeling (BIM) and prefab technologies to strengthen the Dutch dike.
The project includes raising and fortifying the dike with 75,000 innovative Levvel-blocks, each weighing 6,500 kilos (more than 14,000 pounds), which have been custom developed to protect the Afsluitdijk from waves and to support migrating fish. Watch the video to learn more about how BIM and prefab construction can help mitigate climate change.
Carlo Kuiper, Project Director, Levvel: The Afsluitdijk is a 32-kilometer-long dike between the Zuiderzee and the IJsselmeer.
Yuri Grotewal, Integral BIM Coordinator, Levvel: The Afsluitdijk has a special meaning for me because I grew up here. The feeling that you had when going on holiday, you had to cross the dike. Still, when I do go over the dike, I still get the holiday feeling.
Bas Reedijk, Head of Coastal Water Management Department, BAM Infraconsult: It was designed by the engineer Lely, a very famous guy. And at that time, it was already a quite strong dike, but you have climate change.
Menno de Jonge, Director of Digital Construction, Royal BAM Group: When we have real high tides and heavy storms, there is a chance that the dike will not hold.
Grotewal: If you have a closer look, you can see it needs an update, and we know the water level is rising.
Aernout van Beusekom, Project Manager, Levvel: We are renovating it to keep Holland safe. The biggest storms, we expect in the next 50 years.
Kuiper: The typical aspect of the Afsluitdijk project is actually that there are four functions that have to be combined. On the one hand, we have the flood-defense system, but on the other hand, we have to create—and it’s very contradictory—another opening in the dike for the fish-migration river. So we have to create a safe flood-defense barrier in this new opening. Then, the two other functions are road traffic and shipping traffic. Of course, our government is very keen on reducing the CO2 footprint, and the Levvel-blocks add to that ambition.
Jay Bekkers, Customer Success Manger, Autodesk: Speaking to the inventor of Levvel-blocks, this is, I think, one of the biggest factories within a construction project, really, where they automate their whole fabrication processes, designing perfectly also for manufacturing. And I think that is the goal of industrialized construction to me: introduce more and more manufacturing processes on the construction project.
Reedijk: Outside here, we have the real world 1-in-1, but in the physical model testing, we started with a 1-in-30 scale model. Then, for the dike, we went to Deltares in a 1-in-20 scale model and, finally, in a 1-in-3 scale model in the Delta Flume.
High hydraulic stability, low concrete demand, low CO2 outputs are good for the ecology, but they form, basically, the whole appearance of the Afsluitdijk, the majority of the dike, so 30 kilometers of dike will be protected by these blocks.
We’re now working with [Autodesk] BIM 360 in the cloud; basically, it’s all about quality. Everybody works on the same model—and not only we as BAM and Van Oord but also our shop contractors, and it’s also future-proof.
The manufacturing of the Levvel-blocks is done here in Harlingen in an automated factory. Harlingen is a seaport, so we can load the blocks here in seagoing vessels, and then they are transported to the dike so we do not need to transport the blocks in any way on the roads. It’s all marine transport. It’s far more safe, and, also, it’s a lower CO2 footprint.
van Beusekom: In every block, there is a chip. And those chips, we can follow the block from the port until they are placed in the dike. It’s all about traceability and proving that your quality system is in place.
de Jonge: I think there’s a number of very innovative aspects on this project. Already in the design, we can take account of the best way to design this dam with the most advanced technologies and also materials. The credo that we use in our organization is, “We build it before we build it.” So, first, we produce our design in a fully digital way before we start constructing it in a physical way. That leads to less waste. It’s all about being more efficient, getting better insights from the start by fully preparing a project in a digital way.
Grotewal: We implemented BIM 360, we gave everybody access to the environment, and we showed them the possibilities. So, instead of just seeing only a civil part and a mechanical part, you could see that together in one environment without having to have separate programs.
de Jonge: During all the steps that we go through in our project lifecycle, we produce a lot of data. This data is of crucial importance to companies in our industry, and we can learn from this data. We can become more efficient by using machine learning and AI [artificial intelligence] technologies. That is the big promise of using data in a more efficient way in our industry.
Reedijk: I’m very proud that I am able to protect the dike for the coming hundred years with these blocks, with my blocks. That makes me very proud.
Grotewal: It makes you proud of the thing we did 90 years ago, the way they built the dike back then. And seeing the amount of work it takes to get at least a part of the dike now into a new state, it’s mind boggling.
Reedijk: I’m cycling over the dike. In five years, we will not only cycle there with the nice weather but also, if there will be a big storm, for sure, we’ll go to the Afsluitdijk and see the interaction of the waves and the blocks, which will be very impressive.
Grotewal: I meet a lot of people I would normally not meet, and for them, the renewal of the Afsluitdijk also means a feeling of safety. They don’t have to worry that in 40 years, they’ll be underwater.