Cooperation in the region? Build a whale

Photographer: Robert Oosterbroek

How do you get a region interested in sustainability? Work together to install a whale in the centre of Utrecht! Since January 2019, the enormous whale ‘skyscraper’ – made of five tonnes of plastic from the Pacific Ocean – can be seen jumping out of the canal on Catharijnesingel in front of TivoliVredenburg. The animal is a statement against the gigantic amount of plastic waste that pollutes rivers, seas and oceans all over the world.

On the initiative of the Faculty of Law, Economics and Governance at Utrecht University, 2018 was devoted to bringing the work of art to the Netherlands. The whale was designed for the Bruges Triennial by the New York design agency STUDIOKCA and will remain in Utrecht until September 2019, after which it will travel on to Asia.

Raising awareness of research

By using the whale to grab people’s attention and organising a comprehensive series of lectures, Utrecht University is able to share knowledge about rivers, oceans and water with a wider audience. “It fits nicely within our research into the sustainable management of rivers and the sea,” says Professor of European and Dutch Water Law Marleen van Rijswick.

Regional cooperation

However, the whale also generated another unexpected sustainable result. Installing and securing funding for the whale required close cooperation between a large number of parties in the region: the Municipality of Utrecht, the province and the Directorate-General for Public Works and Water Management (Rijkswaterstaat), but also organisations such as the De Stichtse Rijnlanden water board, RIWA-Rhine Association of River Water Companies, law firm De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek, engineering firm Sweco and waste processing company Renewi.

Programme leader Rebecca van Musscher explains:

“Everyone worked their socks off to make this happen. The skyscraper brings people together. If people and organisations feel so involved and enthusiastic, it opens up so many doors! The whale has raised our profile among the public and has shown that together we are strong. And with so many committed and good people working together, ideas for a great sequel are already bubbling!”