Living with water
Brown lawns, dried out ponds, low river levels. The effects of the drought are clearly visible this summer. What has been going on for some time is now accelerating enormously, says Anouk van der Poll, curator of the Embassy of Water. “It’s going even faster than I thought.” With the Embassy, Van der Poll has been showing for several years that we need to change our relationship with water. During Dutch Design Week (DDW22), the Embassy is a kind of springboard “to really start doing it now”, says the curator.
Van der Poll wants to initiate a movement in which we ‘live with water’. The Embassy did this in 2020 by giving water a voice for the first time, interpreted by water researcher Cees Kamp. “It still took a bit of searching back then. What does a voice like that mean? How do we find the interpretation?” Even so, it was not as complicated as expected, reflects Van der Poll. “Just the fact that water was at the table made an impact. The main message of the voice of water was that we see water very much as a product.”
Last year, it was ecologist and philosopher Matthijs Schouten who immediately said ‘yes’ when asked if he wanted to be the voice of water. “Matthijs is someone who is used to giving speeches. It was a perfect fit for that moment.” During a press conference of water, Schouten expressed the sustaining and nourishing role of “all life”.
‘“We slowly seem to be gaining the understanding that we have to live together with water again. Not only taking but also giving that reciprocity back. That awareness is quite a process, and we are also growing in this awareness at the Embassy. I want to share our learning process with others.”’
“We slowly seem to be gaining the understanding that we have to live together with water again. Not only taking but also giving that reciprocity back. That awareness is quite a process, and we are also growing in this awareness at the Embassy. I want to share our learning process with others.”
Van der Poll has noticed there is also increasing awareness in society. An example is in the Collective Private Commissioning (CPO) project in which she participates with eight other families. Van der Poll suggested digging five-cubic-metre concrete wells next to the house. “To do that is quite expensive, and you don’t earn that money back. But everyone thought it was a good idea. They understood my story.”
For the next two years, the Embassy will be fully committed to housing construction. Last July, the directors of the Embassy partners (municipality of Eindhoven, De Dommel Water Board, Province of North Brabant, the water utility Brabant Water and Dutch Design Foundation) signed a cooperation agreement for this purpose. “In 2020, we conducted a study on how much water we use in the Netherlands. Of all the water that is extracted, 74% goes to households. And in such a household, 75% of the water is used in the bathroom: bath, shower, toilet and washing machine.”
Borrowing from the term ‘regenerative agriculture’, Van der Poll came up with ‘regenerative housing’. “Designing a home in such a way that it not only takes, but also gives back to the water system.” With the Embassy of Water during DDW22 this year, she wants to be a springboard for housing projects to really include water in the plans from the start. “Because we still flush our toilets with drinking water, even though there have been alternatives for a long time.”
Van der Poll attributes the difficulty in getting the necessary water transition going to the invisibility of water. “Water has just been too easy. It’s always there, you don’t have to think about it, and it’s super cheap. Of course, this drought is a serious problem, but somehow I do think that at least now people are coming around to this view, and hopefully, we will take real action.”
To learn more about regenerative housing, Van der Poll decided to participate in an international course on the subject. She expected to be provided with tools and starting points, but in the beginning, the focus was mainly on the change in mindset. That was confirmation that she was on the right track by bringing the voice of water to the table.
Van der Poll has a view of the Dommel river from the Designhuis in Eindhoven, where the Embassy of Water is located. She tries to make contact with the river every day. “Sometimes I just like to chat. Whatever comes to mind intuitively, I take with me into my work.”
This summer, Van der Poll together with Cees Kamp and Joost van der Cruijsen of De Dommel Water Board and others took part in a water expedition in Norway. This expedition was led by Marieke Akgul, an Interspecies Communicator, and Jungle Svonni, shaman of the Norwegian Sami people. “It was really very special. I learned to open up even better and to listen with all my senses. Everyone communicates in a different way, which great to experience.”
No manual with technical solutions
To give the voice of water an appropriate place within housing projects, the Embassy team wondered how housing ‘actually works’. “Which parties are involved? If we want to do something different with regard to water there, where should we look? Where are the points we can start on?”
The design firm Six Fingers conducted research into these questions at the Embassy’s request. To this end, the firm held discussions in two sessions with stakeholders such as an architect, an advisor to a housing corporation, a real estate developer, someone from De Dommel Water Board and a water advisor from the municipality of Eindhoven, and with pioneers in regenerative housing such as the initiator Ecodorp Boekel ecovillage, the project manager of Brainport Smart District, Mijn Waterfabriek water treatment plant, and the founder of Herenboeren sustainable farming cooperative. During DDW22, the results of the research can be seen in the Designhuis.
Van der Poll does not want a manual with technical solutions. To be able to collaborate with water on construction projects, she approached the Italian designer Chiara Treglia with the brief to design the steps for this process. Treglia will present her design at DDW22.
“How cool would it be if we looked at a construction project from the perspective of the water system’s natural infrastructure from the beginning? To look at what will be possible from there.” By watching and listening carefully, you learn what water needs, says Van der Poll. “Water is actually inherently regenerative. Water flowing in a river continuously creates those whirlpools. This is a way water restores itself. One of the things we can do is give the water room to move naturally.”
Van der Poll designed a meandering water pipe to demonstrate this. “With this, you make visible that it contains water. Water pipes are straight because our houses are straight and angular. It would be nice if we could shape our houses to the water. I’d prefer to go that direction, that you see water in its natural form everywhere.”
The Embassy of Water organizes activities throughout the year. Each year, the Embassy shows where it stands during DDW. This year, during DDW22, the Embassy is organising a conference on various experiments with regenerative housing. A complete overview will be available later.