Nathan Lienhop: Dam Space

Dam Space: Utilizing kinetic techniques, adaptive architecture preserves, expands and enhances public event spaces to address the problem and opportunities of the annual flooding along the Peoria riverfront

Bachelor of Architecture Thesis Project

Student: Nathan Lienhop

Faculty: Philip Ra, AIA & Mini Chu


Utilizing kinetic techniques, this project seeks to address the problem of annual flooding in a way that opportunistically preserves, expands, and enhances public event space. The city of Peoria, Illinois, is bound by the banks of the Illinois River. Its location afforded industry the means to thrive and allows the residents the opportunity to experience the river’s beauty. However, each year the community witnesses its power and destructiveness during annual flood events. As a means of mitigation, the city currently extolls a considerable effort erecting temporary – and not entirely effective – flood barriers. Not only are there great financial costs, but more importantly, these means exclude the public from accessing the programs and spaces that are vital to the community.

In addition to preserving the site more effectively than current efforts, the architectural response intends to expand and enhance public event space by performing with nature in an innovative way. Establishing a network of static nodes across the site, these points are then linked by a series of temporary, kinetic sections – that respond to floodwater similar to effect of a wet straw wrapper – to create a larger inhabitable dam.

Diverging from the historic River Station, a new “railroad yard” establishes the source for diverging and converging rails for the kinetic systems. With connections to this network, trains of floating “dock engines” become the architecture’s interface to the site’s hydrology. As the flood water moves these docks higher in elevation, they in turn deploy the kinetic sections. The landscape is also tuned to respond to the flood stages; the amphitheater transforms into an overflow pool before the declared flood stage and the kinetic building sections fully deploy before the flood water reaches the building’s elevation. Along the water’s edge, new riverfront steps will serve as a meter for the public to gauge the water level on a daily and hourly basis as a visual cue of the site’s conditions.

Approaching the problem through the lens of kinetics and integrated design can benefit the goal of creating adaptable spaces and inhabitable dams. Likewise, the emerging potential of universal robotics, proliferation of digital technology, and innovative contemporary kinetic precedents have begun paving the way for revolutions in our participation with architecture. Integrating the means for active adaptations enhance the performance of the architecture and the experience of the site’s dynamic conditions. Through this multi-faceted approach, an architecture of linked spaces will reflect the activities of the Peoria Riverfront and mitigate flooding in the pursuit of Dam Space.