Water… we take it for granted, and that really has to change

Water. It is such an essential part of our lives. It is everywhere, and literally in everything. In fact, it’s so ubiquitous that we’re not aware of it, or how we use it.

Type Update
Published on 7 October 2019
Part of Embassy of Water
Water… we take it for granted, and that really has to change
Part of Embassy of Water

Anouk van de Poll – the curator of the 2019 Embassy of Water – wants to change that: “We’ve talked about finding ways to have the water that we use and to give it back to nature in a clean way. But that’s not enough. We need to give water back in a better way, more vital and more powerful. Water has the ability to clean itself and I think because of the way that we have treated nature, nature has maybe lost a little bit of its power. So if we can make the ecosystem more resilient again, then we can give water this quality back.”


To understand what Anouk’s ambition with water is all about, it’s good to go back to 2002, the year she graduated from Design Academy Eindhoven. “My graduation project was a water carafe inside which you could make a vortex. That’s how water flows in rivers and streams. It’s basically water’s way to become clean and healthy again.”

Water Quality, Water Circularity

Clean and healthy…? We hear increasingly negative news about our water. Pollution, drought, flooding – they all affect us, and a lot of the problems are manmade. So this year, Anouk decided to match each partner within the Embassy with a designer to see how they could collaborate on two themes: water quality, and water circularity. And she also decided to take a different, less practical approach. One of the designers that are going to help Anouk reach her goals is Valentina Mariño from Colombia. She is a young designer who is fascinated by light, sound and water – not as a resource, but as a medium. For Valentina, it’s not about how to exploit water, but recognizing how we relate to it. Why? To understand how we fit into the complex system that nature is. And for her, it started with seeing elements of nature echoing across themselves.

Water beyond functionality…

"Water, light, it's already perfect"

We might be smart enough to invent something like a light bulb, or pipes to steer water where we need it to go, but those things turn natural elements like light and water into mere resources and prevent us from seeing their importance in the natural system.

Valentina: “Nothing we do as a human race can ever be more fascinating than the naturality of it. Water, light, it’s already perfect. I think people already know that you can turn on a light bulb. But light is a mimic of what is actually happening on a daily basis. The sun for instance, or the reflection of the moon on the water. And so there is a different meaning besides its functionality.”

"Water is more than what you drink"

“We get too stuck in ‘Okay, we have to design something to clean the water or we have to design something to direct the water.’ But there’s something much more that’s needed. That is how we understand it. Because if you understand it as something that is just practical and you’re going to treat it as such, then it’s not going to last.”

Photo by Rudy & Peter Skitterians

“In a supermarket, you buy meat and it’s packaged and the children don’t know that it’s from a cow. It’s basically the same with water, that’s very sad. if we have water from our tap, then we also don’t think about the source of it. It would be nice if we can make that more visible also: how the water falls and how it goes into the ground and how important it is, how we treat the earth in terms of how the water can filter in and then how we can pump it up and use it again.”

Valentina’s project “An Anthropology of Water” will be on display at the Embassy of Water during Dutch Design Week. It’s essentially a frozen moment of water, cast in a transparent tile.

Valentina: “What I’m mostly talking about in my project, is about this sensibility, the fragility of water. Not in a negative way, but more in how we can become anything you give it. It’s more than becoming the bowl that contains it. It is a medium for light, in my project. It is a medium for sound to be manifested. It’s a constant feedback between where you can see, where you can hear and how you feel about it, through the water. It’s about releasing the benefits of being close to it. About the benefit that goes beyond the fact that you can drink it. The benefit is that it draws you in its motion. It draws you in its temperature, in its pressure.”

Tapping into what water means to us

Photo by S. Hermann & F. Richter

The attractive force of water is what drives Valentina’s thoughts around it. In the past, we lived closer to water, she says, and we understood it more. And she wants us to remember that, to stop thinking about water as something to harness or direct and go back to thinking of it as an element, as a medium. And to see ourselves as part of that too. So really, an essential part of the practical solutions to issues surrounding water lies in tapping into what water means to us, and what it does to us.

“We also have a history of fighting against water, that’s in our blood. And now we have to sort of turn that around and work with the water and for the water. And love it a little bit more.”

“Using technology in the right way…”

Anouk: “I think there are real possibilities there. And we don’t have to only say, oh, everything’s about technology and we’ve lost nature and it’s all gone the wrong way. I think now we’re at this turning point where we can use this technology in the right way and together with nature, in a sort of symbiosis between everything we’ve learned so far, and combine it with going back to our natural roots. If we can find the primal connection that we had with nature and with water, if we can find that back again… then we’re at the right place.”

Photo by Ibrownstone

What else can we see at the Embassy of Water?

Lotte de Raadt about the identity of our drinking water
Every drop of water that comes out of the tap is unique. Ceramist Lotte de Raadt designed a drinking water passport for the various sources in Brabant. The passport gives the user insight into the role of nature and the process from source to tap.

Hugo Schuitemaker about water as a Trusted Source
There is great confidence among the Dutch in the quality of our drinking water. Yet, it is a lot of work to maintain the high quality. Designer Hugo Schuitemaker works on ideas to allow the users of the water from the Meuse to contribute to a cleaner river.

Wouter Corvers about choosing what you use
Only 5% of the water is used for drinking and cooking. Do we realize how much water we use every day? Wouter Corvers created an interactive installation to discover whether the Dutch are open to alternative water sources such as rainwater.

Axel Coumans on channelling well
The water in the canal next to the Embassy of Water is very clear and contains various types of aquatic plants and fish species. But what do you see from this underwater life as a resident? Atelier Axel wants to make the ever-changing water quality visible.

Jochem Esser with Kymatic
In Kymatic, water visualizes sound. A small portion of water resonates at frequencies of sound. Water, space and light make the boundary between object and space disappear within this system.

Anthroponix about Wastewater
Imagine that no drop of wastewater leaves the Campina site. Thieu Custers and Eva van Strien of Anthroponix create a speculative vision in which residents are re-using all their wastewater, and the valuable residual materials, locally. Would it become a jungle in the city?

The World Design Embassies are a programme of the Dutch Design Foundation, and work year-round with partners and stakeholders to look at the role that design can play in the development of new perspectives and concrete solutions to the challenges we face as a society in a quickly-changing world.

The Embassies are also a part of Dutch Design Week, where the world comes to Eindhoven to discover innovation through the eyes of designers, design thinking and design skills. During Dutch Design Week, the Embassies take on a physical form – in exhibitions, lectures, discussions and workshops – so that ideas, expertise and insight can be shared, with experts but also with the general public.

In this series, we take a look at each of the six embassies in detail and through this, we will explore the challenges and solutions for future societies. Think climate change, urbanization, the increasing use of technology in our lives – where is it all leading, and how can we shape our society around those things in a positive, meaningful way? Don’t forget to check our other episodes on the embassies of health, sustainable design, safety, mobility and circular & biobased building. And do join us during Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven, from October 19th until the 27th 2019. Hope to see you there.

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