Integrated Urban River Corridors

Spatial design for social-ecological resilience in Bucharest and beyond


  • Claudiu Forgaci TU Delft, Architecture and the Built Environment



The issue of urban resilience concerns a multitude of urban systems and spaces. This thesis focuses on Urban River Corridors (URCs)—that is, urban spaces where the overlap between the urban systems (carrying the ’social-‘) and the river system (carrying the ‘-ecological’) is at the highest intensity—as strategic spaces with a potentially high contribution to urban resilience. The general hypothesis is that with an integrated spatial understanding, planning and design of rivers and the urban fabric surrounding them, cities could become more resilient not just to flood-related disturbances, but to general chronic stresses as well. Hence, the thesis addresses four spatial problems arising from the loss of synergy between the natural dynamics of rivers and the spatial configuration and composition of urban areas that they cross: (1) river-taming operations combined with riverside traffic corridors have weakened the relationship between fluvial geomorphology and urban morphology, transforming rivers into physical barriers; (2) flood-protection measures aiming for resistance to water dynamics have led to a latent flood risk; (3) the capacity of urban rivers to deliver ecosystem services has been diminished; and (4) rationalisations of the river system have reduced the scalar, (and implicitly) social and ecological complexity of urban rivers.

Drawing on theories of social-ecological resilience and urban form resilience, on conceptual and analytical tools from spatial morphology and landscape ecology, and on practical experience in urban river design projects, the thesis constructs a theory of social-ecologically integrated Urban River Corridors, in which it proposes a spatial-morphological definition, an assessment framework, and a set of design principles and design instruments. Framed as a transdisciplinary design study, the thesis integrates knowledge from various disciplines dealing with the problematique of urban rivers and employs a design-driven methodology that includes design explorations and design testing in the research process.

The case of Bucharest crossed by URC Dâmbovița and URC Colentina is used to contextualise the spatial-morphological definition, and to demonstrate, develop and test the proposed assessment framework, design principles, and design instruments with a distinct set of methods in each of the three parts of the thesis. In addition to a transdisciplinary literature review of URCs, and a historical review of Bucharest’s URCs, Part 1 presents a qualitative data analysis of 22 expert interviews, used to determine the current state of URC Dâmbovița and URC Colentina. Based on four key properties of URCs identified in the literature, Part 2 develops an indicator system and a method for the assessment of social-ecological integration. Informed by key problems and potentials identified by the local experts, the assessment framework is then applied on the two URCs of Bucharest. In the last part, design applications, including urban river projects carried out by the author on other rivers and a design workshop in Bucharest, are used to demonstrate and test the design principles through design instruments.

Author Biography

Claudiu Forgaci, TU Delft, Architecture and the Built Environment

Claudiu Forgaci (1986) is an architect and urbanist, born in Miercurea-Ciuc, Romania. He holds a Master of Architecture from “Ion Mincu” University of Architecture and Urbanism, Bucharest (2010) and a Master of Science (Cum Laude) from the European Post-Master in Urbanism (EMU) at Delft University of Technology (2013). For his studies at TU Delft, he was awarded with the “Open Horizons” scholarship by the “Dinu Patriciu” Foundation in Romania and a scholarship from the Romanian-American Foundation.

Claudiu worked for several years in the practice of architecture (2005-2012) and co-authored, as part of the Bucharest-based ADN BA architecture studio (2009-2012), a series of award-winning projects, such as the “Dogarilor Apartment Building”, nominated for the Mies van der Rohe Award in 2014.

In 2013, he started his research as a Climate-KIC label Ph.D. candidate at Delft University of Technology under the supervision of Prof. Arjan van Timmeren and Dr. Machiel van Dorst on the topic of urban resilience and social-ecological integration in urban river corridors. This topic continued explorations from his two master’s theses elaborated previously: “The limit between city and water. The morphology of the waterfront in the image and structure of the city” (Forgaci, 2010) and “Bucharest: Between North and South”, which explored the strategic potentials of River Dâmbovița in Bucharest (Forgaci, 2013).

The Ph.D. research gave him an international experience through the Climate-KIC Summer Schools “The Journey” (2015) in Utrecht (NL), Budapest (HU) and Coventry (UK), and “Urban Metabolism and Circular Economy” (2016) in Bologna (IT); through the Idea League Doctoral School “Resilient Urban Systems” held in Rotterdam (NL), Singapore, Guangzhou (CN) and Aachen (DE); and through his doctoral mobility in the Spatial Morphology Research Group at Chalmers University of Technology, where he worked on models for spatial integration using Space Syntax theory under the supervision of Prof. Lars Marcus and Dr. Meta Berghauser Pont.

During his Ph.D. research, he used design projects to research design principles for river corridors. In 2015, he led the team that won the first prize in the international ideas competition (Re)Discovering the Emerald Necklace Colentina Chain of Lakes organised in the Le:Notre Landscape Forum 2015 in Bucharest, amongst other design competitions, such as Europan 12 on River Seine in Vernon (FR) or Rethinking Someș on Someșul Mic River crossing the city of Cluj-Napoca (RO). Claudiu gave a number of lectures on the topic of urban rivers, such as the one at One Architecture Week in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, supported by the Romanian Cultural Institute, and organised in 2017 the international urban design workshop “The Urban River Corridors of Bucharest” in Bucharest, Romania.

Currently, he is a research fellow at AMS Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions, engaged in understanding how spatial urbanisation patterns, at multiple scales, are related to urban resilience and seeks to drive forward his approach in research projects and in the practice of design.


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How to Cite

Forgaci, C. (2018). Integrated Urban River Corridors: Spatial design for social-ecological resilience in Bucharest and beyond. A+BE | Architecture and the Built Environment, 8(31), 1–382.



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