Living and designing with water

Water is a primary condition for life. A human consists for approximately 60% of water. We need about 2 litres of fresh water every day. This water transports nutrients and waste in and out of our bodies. But we use a lot more than that. On average, a Western European person uses about one-hundred-and-thirty litres of water a day. In a city of 1 million people this means 130 million litres of tap-water are consumed every day. And this is only a small percentage of the overall water-usage in a city. Most of the water is consumed by industries and used for agriculture. This water consumption is part of a city’s ‘surface water cycle’.
Rainfall,… streamflow,… evaporation,… and wastewater are also part of this cycle. This ‘surface water cycle’ should be in balance in order to provide a high quality living environment and a healthy city.

A good balance of the water system is imperative for both humans and cities and needs to be safeguarded at all times.

This animation explains the importance of a balanced watersystem, using examples of waterdesign in the Netherlands and current issues in Brazil. The animation was used in the 10th Architecture biennal in Sao Paulo.

Brazil; known as a vast country with a great expanse of rainforest: ‘The lungs of the world’. Many rivers run through the country. During the second half of the 20-tieth century, cities, like São Paulo, started to prosper. More jobs meant more people came to São Paulo and the city grew. Very fast! The rapid growth of the Brazilian cities had a down side. This growth was often uncontrolled and the construction of basic sanitation systems did not follow at the same pace. Today 5 to 10% of people have no direct access to fresh tap-water and an even larger number of households are not connected to the sewer system.
There is a serious imbalance in the urban water system in large parts of major Brazilian cities. These parts lack a proper waste regulation. People as well as industries and agricultural businesses use the rivers to dump their waste. This pollution limits the possibility to use the water for drinking and it is this pollution that has become the main cause of many diseases. The majority of hospital visits are directly related to this.

Roughly one third of Dutch territory is actually below sea level. This is where a third of the population lives and most of the economy is concentrated. The Dutch are usually seen as the world’s finest controllers of water. But are they…? They certainly had a lot of practice living in a Delta area.

Out of necessity and mainly by trial and error, the Dutch have gradually learned a lot about handling the water cycle balance. The canals, dams, dikes, sewage systems and harbours are an inevitable element of many Dutch cities and the water system still defines their structure today.
Rediscovering the qualities of water and how it can be used to make cities and landscapes more resilient, is a challenge that involves many different stakeholders. Working together and keeping the health and safety for future generations in mind, is key in designing our cities. For both Brazil and the Netherlands.

The animation can be viewed here.

Location: Brazil and the Netherlands
Client: Creative Industries Fund, Architecture Biennale Sao Paulo
Collaborators: Posad Spatial Strategy, Studio Duko Stolwijk
Year: 2013