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Water, architecture and cities

Water, architecture and cities

JUNY 2018 | 6 minutes

With an increasing presence in a large number of areas, sustainability, also known as sustainable development, is closely related to the development of cities. Both the urban spaces and buildings in cities are a crucial part of a process that aims to strike a balance between economic growth, caring for the environment and social well-being. “Water is a key factor, not only physically and as a vital part of life, but also because of the role it plays in the production chain, which leads to water stress and the reduction of the water needed for consumption in favour of production,” states Xavi Torras, Director of the We Are Water Foundation. Under his direction, the non-profit organisation has been investigating water consumption, supply and recycling for some time and, since it was set up in 2010, has helped to tackle problems arising out of the shortage of water and sanitation across the world.

A holistic approach to water

Water, from the perspective of urban planning and architecture, was one of the main features of “Smartwater, Smartcities”, the fifth edition of the conference on architecture, technology, design at the service of water and society, organised by the We Are Water Foundation. The event, held at the Roca Madrid Gallery, was an opportunity to learn first-hand about the experience and projects of Spanish and Latin American engineers, urban planners and architects who are experts in designing and managing  water systems, and provided a platform for sharing knowledge, developing synergies and setting up partnerships. “Discovering different perspectives, which give us a cross-cutting view of the water sector and water-related issues, is paramount,” states the Foundation’s David Cámara Navarro, who also highlights the significant influence of architecture and design on citizens.

Construction of structures for the collection and use of water in India.

Water-related issues and climate change are closely interconnected and are two areas that affect and concern people worldwide. Their causes and consequences are rather difficult to determine, but the fact that they should both be controlled and reduced is a reality. In fact, water scarcity affects an overwhelming proportion of the world’s population. According to the World Health Organization, some 3 in 10 people (2.1 billion) lacked access to drinking water at home in 2017, and 6 in 10 (4.5 billion) lacked safely managed sanitation. Smartwater is aiming to limit this social and quality of life gap through a hollistic approach to water.  According to Natalia Gullón, head of the Spanish Cooperation Fund for Water and Sanitation in Latin America and the Caribbean, part of the Spanish Cooperation Agency for International Development (Agencia Española de Cooperación – AECI), in areas such as Latin America, the most built-up yet unequal region in the world,“the often extreme size of cities causes water and sanitation systems to break down, which makes it necessary to implement projects for the expansion, redistrubition or reduction of demand.” Juana Canet Roselló, a member of Spain’s higher council of architect associations (Consejo Superior del Colegio de Arquitectos de España – CSCAE), explains that this phenomenon is often due to waves of immigrants arriving in unprepared urban areas or refugee camps, which, over time, become cities.

Water and land management

“The broad differences between areas makes managing water and land in parallel essential,” stresses the Director of social knowledge and development of the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF), Víctor Arroyo.  Despite suffering from high water stress as a result of overpopulation, Latin American cities are one of the places where architecture and design most influence society. For the We Are Water ambassadors in Mexico, Arturo and Jorge Arditti, from Arditti Arquitectos, although architecture is of little importance for other pandemics, it is different when it comes to water. The Mexican architects point out that “the design of buildings and cities can make a great contribution to water-related issues through constructions that help raise awareness and educate citizens”. According to Jaime Ventura, of Ventura&Asociados, education in this area should involve the comprehensive management of water resources by authorities. Juan Guillermo Pérez, a Colombian representing Discorp states that it should also present the full picture of the situation of each area.

Innovation also plays a major role in the management of water resources used in architecture and urban planning through efficient technologies that help to better manage the water cycle, predict demand and reduce losses. The General Manager of Sofrel Lacroix, Javier Figueras, emphasises the amount of techology in place in our cities that is used for the treatment and management of water and that is usually unknown to us.  First and foremost, this technology should serve users, be accessible and be easy to use. “Integrating elements of geographic information is essential: linking city planning and services using digital mapping enables the organisation of water sectors and the development of automated solutions,” says Alejandro Beivide of Acciona Agua. Jorge Gordillo of GVA, Mexico City, believes that “technology should no longer be seen as merely an object of consumption so that it can become a problem-solving tool.

The Guggenheim museum building in Bilbao

The close connection between water and architecture

“We should adapt to the landcape in which we are building by using a water management system that is part of the architecture, enabling it to operate as a small-scale infrastructure”, states Carolina González Vives of Hidra.Design. For the Madrid-based architect, cities, architecture and water are closely related, since any changes made to land can completely alter its natural water trends. Her studio is researching ways to decentralise infrastructures through spaces that, due to their shape, can solve problems of flood control, purification, and water and waste management. This vision is shared by Belén Moneo of  Moneo Brock, who believes that measures and regulations obliging the collection of rain water, as well as the separation of grey water for re-use, should be encouraged. “It is important that certificates granted for projects do not just remain on paper and should be extended to the use of buildings. Developing sustainable architecture that is respectful of the use and re-use of water is not enough if users are not engaged in the process”, states Santiago González of the architecture firm Naos, based in A Coruña, Spain.

Actiu Technology Park

As stated by Soledat Berbegal, Board Member and Director of Communications of Actiu, “our aim has always been to manufacture while adding value to society and using only the resources required.” This work and life philosophy is visible at Actiu’s Technology Park, located in Castalla, Spain. Designed by the architect José María Tomás Llavador, it was awarded the LEED® Platinum cerficiation by the US Green Building Council. The technology complex is a superb example of how to incorporate water management competencies into architecture by using roofs that collect rain water, which is then stored in underground tanks with a capacity of up to 12,000 cubic metres. This sustainable, environmentally friendly vision is shared by Puntacana, a resort in the Dominican Republic. According to the architect Liana Reyes, the resort responsibly manages its water resources by means of a private pipeline and by collecting waste water and rain water, which are re-inserted into the subsoil. “There is an increasing awareness that water is a key objective on a global level”, says Gabriel Morales of Kmbio. The Mexican architect, who is involved in a hotel project in his country, which has been based from the outset on the desalination of seawater to supply hotel rooms, highlights the growing interest of developers in water-related issues.

Actiu Technology Park
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