We can be proud of ourselves: the Netherlands is now a lot safer

As a coastal and hydraulic engineering specialist, Coen Kuiper (47) is involved in projects where water and land come together. In recent years he has been heavily involved in reinforcing the Afsluitdijk. 

From beginning to end

‘I always say hydraulic engineering is my hobby and I’ve made it my profession. One of the most important projects I’ve worked on in recent years is the reinforcement of the Afsluitdijk. What’s special is that I’ve been involved in each phase: the planning preparations, the tender process, the design and also the works execution, which is now approaching completion. You don’t often experience that as a designer. On this project, my job is to ensure that we work uniformly, with everyone adopting the same approach and using the same principles and design methods. In hydraulic engineering, there’s no single right answer; it’s a combination of factors. It’s important that everyone’s moving in the same direction.’

More attention for achievements

‘For the reinforcement of the Afsluitdijk, we designed a special concrete block that can withstand waves created during a superstorm. The best day was when a scale model of that block passed all the tests in the lab in Delft. I also remember when the first block was placed by crane on the dyke – that was a milestone. The Afsluitdijk has been in the news a lot lately. The tendency in the media is to focus on things that aren’t going so well. Sometimes too little attention is paid to the fantastic achievements, if you ask me. That’s why I often tell people I guide around the site: ‘Take a look around and judge for yourself’. We can be proud of the innovations that have been applied; the Netherlands is now a lot safer.’

Theory and practice

‘I worked at Deltares for seven years but missed the practical element and switched to Witteveen+Bos in 2007. Once you get out into the field, though, you’re frequently faced with the fact that so many things are still unknown. So when TU asked if I’d be interested in supervising students and conducting research with them one day a week, I said yes. The two worlds reinforce each other: I share any knowledge gaps identified in practice with TU but also put the knowledge uncovered by the university into practice. As you gain more experience at Witteveen+Bos, you’re offered the chance to follow various career pathways, but I’ve chosen to remain a specialist. For me, this is the perfect balance.’