The ‘make water Wet again’ public installation is composed of phytofiltration and slow sand filtration in order to produce drinkable water from any type of water. This installation is designed to open the environmental engineering of drinkable water, to be replicable and forked, and to enhance agency of citizens in a particular Region Of Interest.

This project is nominated for the INDEX: Award 2019.

This proposition was proposed for the Water Futures Design Challenge 2018 by A/D/O, inviting creatives to come up with ideas for solving global drinking water problems – from plastic bottle consumption to distribution in remote areas. This original study was made in the region of Brooklyn.

One arrangement of the installation (credits: Lili Piek)

water comes from the tap, right?

Unfortunately, urban-dwellers, globally, are increasingly losing touch with the origins of their drinking water and even the water cycle itself. As the understanding of our water sources depletes community-wide, how can we expect the populace to appreciate confronting issues such as water scarcity, increased storm intensity or potential outcomes of climate change when the public no longer has a relationship with water. As a vast number of authors have implored, the story of New York City cannot be separated from water.

“Water is for New York a source of respite, a restorative,
a precious commodity
whose urban history involves a steady disappearance
from its contemporary
– May Joseph,
Fluid New York: Cosmopolitan Urbanism and the
Green Imagination.

New York City grew on the region where the Hudson River meets the sea. It’s an archipelagic landform – one that has expanded by claiming more land from the estuary. Yet, NYCs drinking water originates over 200 km away in the Catskill and Delaware watersheds. The water disappears into underground tunnels, some over 300 m deep, for up to a year as gravity leads it to NYCs 8.2 million residents. From a drenching storm in the Catskills to a New Yorker’s early morning shower, water is largely kept out of sight and out of mind. Too frequently it is a calamity, such as Hurricane Sandy, that returns New York’s precarious relationship with water into our consciousness. This often rings true in many of the world’s major cities; the Cape Town or San Paulo water crisis’ provide the dichotomy that water-related problems present us. These scenarios will be heightened in an Anthropocene climate change affected world. Water needs to be thrust back into the daily life of a city. It needs to be tangible, visceral and our connection with water should be deepened with positive associations.

We need to prove that water is wet,
Installation system (credits: Adrien Rigobello)

making your drinkable water

The Make Water Wet Again intervention aims at raising awareness about the scarcity of drinkable water, be it in terms of pollution event or rain volumes. It locates in a Region Of Interest (ROI) previously determined by citizens demand of local government needs. In this ROI we perform an analysis of the city’s natural water runoffs dictated by the topography of the city and its built environment. These derivatives are compared to the flows of people in the city.
Once the analysis performed, it is displayed on-site in order for the people to understand their neighborhood and its water resources. Then the intervention consists in engaging citizens in the process of making drinkable water with natural passive systems. The system we are looking at is the phyto-evaporation combined with slow-sand filtration. These methodologies derived from environmental engineering are used to remove metals, pesticides, solvents, explosives, crude oil and various contaminants. Plants are selected for their ability to fix in their roots or their aerial parts said contaminants. There are various types of plants that can be used, such as cane, salvia chamaedryoides, iris pseudacorus, or carex, just to name a few. Studies with tobacco and mustard, for example, have shown the good extraction potential of these two plants: about 20% of zinc, 60% of cadmium and 40% of lead in sediment samples from these plants. Since 1852 the slow-sand filtration process have been used for public water supply in London. The process percolates untreated water slowly through a bed of porous sand, with the influent water introduced over the surface of the filter, and then drained from the bottom. Slow sand filtration reduces bacteria, turbidity, and organic levels. This system can make use of locally available materials and labor, and can be used for poor and isolated areas.




talks to actions

This construction is being put on site above the ground level so gravity can not drive water runoffs directly into the pools. We are giving access to a bunch of big french-press-like gathering systems equipped with big sponges to the citizens so they can go fetch water in the previously identified areas gathering the most water runoffs, so they put it in the filtration pools. This process is essential so the people engage with the process, they are contributors of the process of making water drinkable.
The blueprints of the intervention shall be published in open source. This allows for the project to spread over international communities and get enhanced. Here, we are designing the process as a Proof Of Concept; when the technical details get published, communities in remote places and/or poor areas can ‘fork’ it to create alternatives. Electronics can be added to monitor the water quality, the system can be scaled down to become a desk object, or even become the size of a field! We could think that contributors of the installation could even be tunning the french-press-like gathering systems into Spongebob Squarepants character. We are using existing engineering that has been implemented for some time now, and the overall intervention is light and as quick as possible to set up. What seems important to us is to raise the awareness about: the immediate environment of citizens thanks to open data analysis, the real cost of water, and the natural alternatives that are accessible. Open Sourcing these engineering techniques through Tactical Urbanism seems crucial to us because water is a common; technical myths have to be unveiled.

Technical design (credit: Adrien Rigobello)


Tim Leeson: project management
Wael el Allouche: creative direction
Mladen Babic: computational design, graphic design
Alvaro Cosido Lopez: computational design
Adrien Rigobello: computational design, graphic design, graphic edition
Lili Piek (guest collaborator): graphic design