Rainwater Living Lab – Sociotechnical Innovations Through Living Labs

  Copyright: © Julian Hofmann, IWW

Heavy rainfall and urban flooding are issues that are gaining importance all around the world today. In recent years, heavy rainfall has caused significant property damage and personal injury in numerous municipalities in Germany. In 2018, the city of Aachen alone was affected twice within a one-month span: on April 29 and May 29, 2018.

Thus, we can also expect new risk situations as a result of extreme weather in Germany. Heavy rainfall can cause major damage, especially in densely populated urban areas. Unlike river floods, flooding from heavy rainfall can occur anywhere and requires new protection and risk approaches with the goal of resilient urban development.

Research into complex climate systems, where a mere change in one parameter, such as average temperature, has serious consequences, requires the scientific community to work together and search for cross-disciplinary solutions. The relevance of interdisciplinary research and cross-disciplinary approaches to solutions increases as the consequences of climate change become noticeably more severe. Successfully adapting to climate-related extreme events through individual preparation and a collective culture of dealing with natural disasters can minimize these consequences.

The ERS-funded Rainwater Living Lab project addresses this issue by investigating the risks posed by heavy rainfall and the development of holistic flood risk reduction measures. Drones were used to collect data of the area around West Station in Aachen, which is prone to flooding due to its topographical location, and a numerical model was subsequently developed from this data.

In this living lab, project partners Dr. Jacqueline Lemm (Chair of Sociology of Technology and Organization), Professor Holger Schüttrumpf (Institute of Hydraulic Engineering and Water Management), Professor Tobias Kuhnimhof (Chair and Institute of Urban and Transport Planning), Professor Michael Leuchner (Unit of Physical Geography and Climatology), Professor Thomas Wintgens (Institute of Environmental Engineering) and their teams are researching the issues regarding drainage, building design, and developing communication strategies:

  • How should a sewer system be designed to drain rainwater?
  • If necessary, can underground bunker systems be used to capture large volumes of water?
  • What measures can be developed to provide controlled drainage of water that collects on sealed surfaces?
  • What features do buildings need to have to be able to withstand flooding?
  • Which digital and analog communication channels are suitable to warn about flooding and to raise awareness about the risk of pluvial flooding?

Here, tools for sustainable flooding and damage prevention during extreme events will be jointly developed through multi- and transdisciplinary analysis, planning, and communication processes.

The research project aims to find out to what extent interdisciplinary approaches for early warning and risk reduction can be developed using a proof-of-concept study. In addition, the research results are to be made available and communicated interactively in digital media. Finally, the model is to be made usable as a tool for other urban areas in Germany and abroad.