During her study at the Design Academy, she was inspired by the work of Viktor Schauberger, an Austrian forester. “He had a connection with the water and could watch it for hours. He understood exactly how water flowed and why trout could jump upstream in a waterfall. He thought that was so amazing that he completely immersed himself in it.” His fascination for water was inspiring for Van der Poll. “He said, for example, that the movement of a whirlpool keeps the water healthy in a stream or river.” Van der Poll’s graduation project was a water carafe in the shape of an hourglass. “If you put water in there and turn it over, it creates a whirlpool. This gives the water its vitality.”
De Embassy of Water allows you to be amazed by water
Water, we often take it for granted. We turn on the tap, and it flows out. Sometimes water causes a ‘nuisance’ or leads to disaster, such as this summer. We protect ourselves from the water. “We prefer to dispose of it as quickly as possible,” says Anouk van der Poll, curator of the Embassy of Water. “Drought is a much bigger problem. We need to look at water differently, let ourselves be amazed by water and stop taking it for granted.”
Over the years, we have come to see water as primarily there for us, says Van der Poll. “Water as an object.” The curator wants to show that it is ‘alive’. “We have reduced the water cycle by half. With all those ditches and streams, the water has to be quickly removed. Rainwater has to go into the sewer. Water hardly goes into the soil anymore.” The drought of recent years shows that things have to change. “We are starting to realize more and more that we can retain water much better, but I would like that change to come faster.”
“We’ve known for thirty years that we can flush our toilets with rainwater, but why don’t we do that?” For Van der Poll it is important to show our relationship with water. “So that we really look at water again and see how special it is, something that we should cherish.”
Thinking about what water needs to be healthy and in balance again, that’s what it’s all about, according to Van der Poll.
“Now we mainly think about what we need. But how much water can we borrow from the ecosystem so that we disrupt the cycle as little as possible and give it back to nature? We are part of that ecosystem.”— Anouk van der Poll
Van der Poll grew up in Dieren, near the Veluwe. She was always in the woods with her parents. Now, when she walks across the Veluwe, she sees what the drought does to nature. “So many dead trees and so much drought. It’s really suffering. You also can see this in the heat stress in the cities. People die from it. All those tiled gardens naturally contribute to that. I want to show that it can be done differently.”
Water stayed in the back of her mind. Meanwhile, she worked with ceramics and started a design agency with her husband. When the Dutch Design Foundation came up with the idea for the World Design Embassies at the time, she thought: it should include an Embassy for water. “That’s what I started doing.”
Sawing your downspout
The first exhibition was more of an exploration. Van der Poll previously worked on an assignment for the De Dommel Water Board and approached that organisation to take part. “The water board delivered interesting projects that gave a picture of the water problem at the time. Just like the municipality of Eindhoven, the province of Noord-Brabant and Brabant Water.”
Through this initial exploration, designers and the various parties wanted to continue working together. Together they set to work on themes such as water circularity, water quality and disconnecting your home. “What happens if you cut your downspout and you trap the rainwater in your garden?”
To then go into it in more depth, Van der Poll called in two designers, Bernard Lenger and Anne van Strien. Water was also a voice at the table, represented by water researcher Cees Kamp. “That really made a huge difference. At one point, he said: “You still view water very much as a product”. That really hit home. The water partners said: “Don’t we work with water? We’re doing it for the water, aren’t we?” And that was what made us look at water in a completely different way.”
Last year, the De Dommel Water Board, the Municipality of Eindhoven, Brabant Water, the Province of Noord-Brabant and the Dutch Design Foundation, as partners of the Embassy of Water, signed a partnership agreement for the next three years. “We are going to start building housing.” Two designers, Fides Lapidaire and Axel Coumans, will investigate how this effects the relationship with water and how you can achieve this in a home. Are rituals necessary for that? And which ones? “This is still under development. The designers will talk to visitors during Dutch Design Week. DDW is mainly a kick-off for us this year.”
This edition also brings together residential pioneers who have already started working with water in homes. Such as Minitopia that is building a neighbourhood in the north of Eindhoven: Buurtschap Te Veld. Or the Brainport Smart District in Helmond. “They are also working on water systems there to ensure that we use much less water.” Peter Scheer of Semilla Sanitation Hubs shows that water systems already exist that allow us to save on water. He is building a water system in a neighbourhood in Enschede that recycles water and allows it to go back into the ground clean. “Almost no water disappears into the sewage system.”
The work of designer Liselot Cobelens, Dryland is also worth a visit for Van der Poll. “As a graduation project, she designed a rug that depicts the landscape of the Peel. The rug shows the drought.” The designer spoke to a farmer and other local residents from the Peel, among others, to investigate what the drought is like. “She has gained so much knowledge about that region. She wants to tell that whole story.”
When Van der Poll shows people around during DDW, this rug is the starting point. “This way, I can emphasise what the scarcity of water and the drought are doing. That is why we have to change how we deal with water. Then I show what is already being designed. We mainly talk to people about what they would like in their homes. Of course, we have those conversations more often, but we have to keep repeating, repeating and repeating. To be able to keep taking baby steps.” This year there is also a voice of the water, this time interpreted by natural philosopher and biologist Matthijs Schouten.
The Embassy of Water is not just an exhibition space to discuss ‘water’ with designers and water organisations. There are also various events, such as debates and lectures.