Embassy of Water at DDW23
Creative Lead Anouk van der Poll about what water needs.
Building based on the idea of what water needs to flow. Watching how water moves if there were no construction on that building site. Incorporating the water infrastructure into the building plans. Revitalise, reuse and thank water. Anouk van der Poll, creative lead of the Embassy of Water, strives for it all.
Since 2018, the Embassy has shown how we can deal with water differently. The water excesses of recent years have also made it clear that things have to change. During Dutch Design Week 2023 (DDW23), the Embassy shows how buildings can function as a collective, natural purification system, where we borrow water from the cycle and return it to nature in a cleaner and more vital way. A water pavilion on the Stadhuisplein in Eindhoven shows how listening to water can form the foundation.
Decentralised water purification
The idea for the water pavilion originated from discussions with the building developers of the homes around Stadhuisplein, says Van der Poll. “I was suddenly inspired to decentralise the water treatment of ‘our’ Designhuis in Eindhoven. We purify the water used in that construction and return it to nature cleanly.” She drew up a plan and incorporated all the results of projects reviewed in recent years into that plan. “Ingredients that can be included in new construction plans. We depict those ingredients in the exhibition.”
Studio Corvers, a multidisciplinary design studio at the intersection of design and architecture, was asked to design and build the pavilion. With a book of about 75 pages and a wall full of pictures and post-its, Van der Poll briefed the Studio Corvers team.
After the briefing, the design studio designers asked people on the street. “I had flooded them with new terms, such as regenerative housing and life-centred design.” Studio Corvers discovered that people have no idea at all what our water system looks like and how it works. “A 19-year-old student, for example, was stunned that the water flowing through the well eventually disappeared into the sea. She thought it would return to the ‘companies that owned the large tanks’ to make ‘new water’ again.”
The natural water cycle
As a result, Van der Poll realised that she could no longer avoid showing people how the water system within a city works, but also the natural water cycle and what we then do with it. “I always wanted to avoid showing what isn’t working. I always wanted to inspire and give hope. I still want to, but we have to tell the story of now first. You want people to understand why we need to change our approach.”
So there will be a section in the glass greenhouse where you can see and hear the story about the current water system. “It is being designed as an experience where people can sit down and take it in.”
Work from previous exhibitions of the Embassy can be seen in and around the pavilion. Like the Mensput-Wensput (Human Well Wishing Well) by Fides Lapidaire and Axel Coumans. “Water has also become a theme for Fides. She looks forward to having all kinds of conversations with people again about what water would like from people.”
In addition, the exhibition shows new work by photographer Dieuwke van den Heuvel, among others. Van den Heuvel is intensely interested in glaciers, says Van der Poll. “She has been to a disappearing glacier in the Swiss Alps. She also saw inside the glacier and snapped some beautiful shots of it. She spoke to the locals who are already saying goodbye. Dieuwke’s work sets the agenda. She makes us think about what we are absolutely not doing here in the Netherlands: what will happen if that glacier is no longer there?”
Visualise what is already possible
The visualisations of the Eindhoven architectural firm Mulderendevries are more representative in nature, which Van der Poll approached to visualise “that things can already be done differently”. “I want to encourage people to look and think about it differently. People can talk to each other about it and wonder what the water itself thinks about it.”
The exhibition will be an overview of what the Embassy has done in the five years of its existence. A period in which the Embassy gave a voice to water. First with water researcher Cees Kamp, which took some searching, Van der Poll admits. The second year with natural philosopher and biologist Matthijs Schouten, who held a press conference as the ‘voice of water’. Slowly Van der Poll saw a change. “Now, when I talk about the voice of water, no one is surprised.”
Take the time
Van der Poll understands that the water transition will take some time. “You need some patience to deal with water differently. Sometimes that is difficult because you are in a hurry. It really is such a mess. Then you think: we need to change how we do this as soon as possible. At the same time, you feel it needs time because it is about changing attitudes. You want to take that time.”
Together with the partners, the Embassy developed a toolkit for sitting down with construction companies last year. “You can’t just knock on a construction company’s door and say, here’s the voice of water; it’ll just shock them. That is why we developed a toolkit to take people through it step by step, but in such a way that it fits in with the construction process.”
Last year, the Embassy went through the toolkit with the Dura Vermeer construction company. As a kind of first introductory session with that toolkit, in which the voice of water was also performed. Van der Poll says, “I was watching that from a distance. Seeing all those people asking water questions and talking to water was nice. That led to beautiful eye openers.”
For example, during the first step of the toolkit. “You name your personal pyramid of priorities and your business priorities. Water does that too. Someone had written down ‘protection’, and water had written the same in their pyramid. The first thought was: we are on the same page. We both want protection. But then, during the course of a conversation, you discover that you have different ideas of the form protection takes. One wants protection against water. Water wants protection for water.”
Van der Poll notices that water is increasingly seen, from different angles, as the foundation. Like from a political one. The Cabinet made water and soil the guiding principle in spatial choices. “That is fantastic; we at the Embassy are delighted with that. I heard the (now outgoing) Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management Netherlands Mark Harbers literally say during the Delta Congress last year, ‘We’re listening to what the Spaarne (a short river that flows from Haarlem to Spaarndam, ed.) has to tell us.'”
It is those small steps that are important to the creative leader. Steps she has also taken. For example, she said she wanted to create a rainwater tank at her new-built home last year. “It is now connected. I can flush my toilet with rainwater!”
Read last year’s interview with Van der Poll here.
‘Water does not need a rectangular water pipe; water must be able to meander. I asked someone from Brabant Water why the pipes were all so straight and angular. Because our houses are straight and angular, was the answer. What if you turn that around? That you let water move naturally and adjust your home accordingly? It's much more about that interplay.’
Twisting and rippling
As an illustration, Van der Poll made a twisting water pipe. “Water does not need a rectangular water pipe; water must be able to meander. I asked someone from Brabant Water why the pipes were all so straight and angular. Because our houses are straight and angular, was the answer. What if you turn that around? That you let water move naturally and adjust your home accordingly? It’s much more about that interplay.”
Van der Poll is also proud of collaborating with the Embassy’s partners. “We don’t know all the answers either, but we’re growing and learning together. We have become a close-knit club. That is a beautiful and unique process.” For example, Karla Niggebrugge, policy officer for climate adaptation in urban areas & social innovation for the province of North Brabant, Embassy partner, continues to express the voice of water in her policy documents, says Van der Poll.
“She compares the collaboration with the Embassy as a stone hitting the water and the ripple that then arises. “We are starting a ripple that continues to widen,” she writes.” This year is the last year of the three-year collaboration agreement that the Dutch Design Foundation signed with Water Board De Dommel, the province of North Brabant, Brabant Water and the municipality of Eindhoven. Van der Poll: “I hope there will be at least another three years.”
The Embassy of Water organises activities throughout the year. Every year during DDW, the Embassy shows what it’s done. This year from the Stadhuisplein. A complete overview of participating projects and programming will follow later.