Forty projects tackle urban water management and change the way we think about our most valuable resource.
Edited by Herbert Dreiseitl and Dieter Grau (Birkhauser, 2009)
Reviewed by Rebecca Esau
We have been alienated from an elemental basis of our lives: water. Even though water is neither inexhaustible nor invulnerable, we treat it as though it is and neglect it far more than other resources. Climate change, flooding and drought, along with increasing population and growing megalopolises make current water management obsolete. The present challenges of our urban landscape screams for a different way to manage and protect water, yet holistic design approaches dealing with this resource are seldom implemented.
presents forty projects that tackle urban water management and change the way we think about our most valuable resource. Treating the city infrastructure as both a fusion of habitat, urban and recreational space, a public interface, and a tool to carefully manage the earth’s resources, these projects bring about a positive shift in society by extending responsibility and ownership of water beyond the government and planners to each individual city dweller.
The book is clearly organized and its contents comprehensive. Descriptions of projects from around the globe are broken up according to scales and divided by essays that discuss the significance of water throughout our history and it’s implications upon the future. In addition to this, a final chapter provides an insightful amount of practical information for the professional and practitioner.
The dividing essays are short and present different aspects of the importance of water in today’s urban landscape, from specific design cases, to trends in sustainability, to the physical and metaphysical properties of water. One essay in particular, "Think Gobal, Act Local" by Wolfgang Geiger speaks to the severity of water management in its current state and the seriousness of its implications for the future. Geiger explains how the environment is being significantly damaged to achieve short-term economic advantage and growth. This effect is worsened with the rise of quickly expanding cities and large-scale urban landscapes, which cannot supply the necessary infrastructure for water management. There is then a critical demand for immediate well-considered and generous water management in urban environments. Geiger expounds a global-to-local solution where our international urban network [which we have already established] acts rapidly on a local basis, changing the nature of urban water management to a more sustainable, and visible, system.
Geiger’s essay focuses on the need for change and a more intimate relationship between water and the urban dweller. The forty examples presented in Recent Waterscapes aim to do just that. Flipping through the book, my interest fell first on Hanover’s Kronsberg development
that was built under the motto “Man-Nature-Technology” for the world expo in 2000. This project caught my attention because the development intended to be a model ecological project but failed to reach its goals in many areas. Recent Waterscapes points out, however, that Kronsberg’s rainwater management system was a revolutionary success. The development was one of the first to treat rainwater as a slow and soggy system, letting water seep into the site over time rather than quickly diverting it to stormwater sewage systems. Two retention corridors running across the site were designed as parks- not inaccessible infrastructure or technical facilities- while regulating130 hectares of water run-off. Design features such as paths are both accessible and inaccessible depending upon the amount of rainfall received, highlighting the ephemeral quality of the water cycle and in turn making people more connected to it.
Another project that caught my eye was the Dubai Business Park, which claims to [and I am skeptical of this] enhance pedestrian comfort in a city of cars and air conditioning. An outdoor plaza creates an “oasis microclimate” through the use of water and drought resistant plants. How this creates a “climate” I am unsure of, since most of the project is covered in concrete. I was impressed, however, with the consideration to lighting for the pedestrian at night, as most cultural events occur during the evening due to unbearable daytime temperatures.
Other examples include projects dealing with large environmental systems, such as the restoration of the Emscher River
in the Ruhr Valley in Germany, to small garden installations such as the Fountain Sculpture in Immenstaad Germany, which incorporates small weirs for children that can be adjusted to regulate the amount of water flowing in and out of the design. In general, the range of scales of projects presented is what impressed me the most, as well as their ability to react to local site conditions while at the same time address larger issues of water management.
Although the book does not explicitly state that it describes the work of Herbert Dreiseitl, his name, and firm Atelier Dreiseitl
, appears in almost every project. Why the book isn’t titled Herbert Dreiseitl’s Recent Waterscapes
is certainly deceiving and slightly annoying. Other than this small discrepancy, I enjoyed the mixture of essays, precedents and technical information in this book. Recent Waterscapes
is overall a solid read that’s full of interesting precedents for today’s designers. Let’s hope to see a lot more water in our city’s plazas than in our city’s pipes.
Archi-geek and design enthusiast, Rebecca Esau holds a B.Ends from UBC and an interest in “urban fun”.