This article, ‘Function and Beauty – A new reality for watershapes’, by Aviram Müller, appeared in the Jan/Feb issue of WaterCanada magazine.
Please note that I’ve added a YouTube video, uploaded Sept. 15, 2010 by Aviram Muller, regarding the BioReSys – Bionic Regeneration Systems which I definitely recommend – should be a must for our current school curriculum. This video is the first of five parts which you can access after watching Part 1.
In recent centuries , designers have done a tremendous job of figuring out how water looks and sounds. As environmental concerns become increasingly important, however, we’re being challenged to think differently about water – how it affects us physically and the essential role it plays in maintaining a healthy world.
As a species, we’ve done a great deal to squander water as an asset, whether by contaminating and otherwise polluting natural bodies of water or by treating pools and other watershapes with harsh chemicals. Isn’t it ironic that spas, which exist primarily so we can take advantage of their healthful benefits, are commonly sanitized with chlorine or other powerful oxidizers that may be hazardous to our health?
In trying to use water to achieve healthful or recreational ends, we have in fact turned away from its natural value and benefits. And it’s not just spas or swimming pools—even with decorative, purely visual water features such as fountains, we have for years turned our backs on natural processes while
pursuing our aesthetic goals.
Point of crisis
Today’s culmination of economic and environmental crises presents an amazing opportunity for watershapers to step back and set the foundations for a fresh, sustainable direction.
When water features emerged in Classical times, Islamic and later European societies, they introduced fountains as the public source for potable water. It was only after centuries of performing this public function that fountains moved decisively away from their original purpose and became more or less purely decorative.
The time has come for water feature to come full circle. Not only must water features be beautiful and soothing, but henceforth, they must be functional, purposeful in the reclamation and decontamination of water. And if water features as part of water management also remediate existing environmental damage or contribute to the cooling of interior spaces, even better.
In recent years, the typical water feature (fountain, pool, spa, pond or stream) has essentially been a standalone unit in which water is circulated, filtered and treated in a closed loop. As such, these features have very little (if anything at all) to do with the overall performance of adjacent buildings or spaces.
But water features could be part of a much larger system. Water could be reclaimed from roofs and other impermeable surfaces, moved into storage in various cisterns or reservoirs and then treated biologically in planted pond or wetland areas or used as part of a water feature. Then, this same water can be used for irrigation, firefighting, air conditioning or the cooling of manufacturing, industrial and power-generating systems.
Some of the pioneering work has already been done. What may seem revolutionary to some in North America is, in fact, already widely practiced in Europe and has been part of the designer approach for more than 20 years. In some places, natural resources and environments are so restricted by population density that designers have already moved in this direction out of necessity.
For years, they’ve dealt with acid rain, groundwater contamination and rivers so polluted that swimming in them has become hazardous or impossible. Under those constraints, system designers think differently about how they manage, reclaim and reuse water.
In North America, we have been taught that water can only be effectively treated through use of chemicals and mechanical filtration. But in Europe, the effluent from car washes, water discharged from nuclear power plants, cooling water from large office buildings, and even the water that emerges from zoological exhibits are treated biologically. In addition, the European experience has shown that biological filtration using specific types of plants can help remediate contaminated water by removing heavy metals and organic compounds introduced into water supplies via the fertilizers used by agricultural or industrial operations.
Whether they take the form of ponds with wetland areas and planted floating islands or of green roofs that bring park like features to urban settings, biological systems can be beautiful. Once humdrum settings, such as retention basins, are now accented with plants, pathways, docks, floating fountains, floating islands and diverse varieties of wildlife.
Currently, there are no classifications or criteria in the LEED certification program referring specifically to water feature designs. The Water Efficiency category, however, emphasizes reducing the use of potable water supplies and thus presents several opportunities for creative applications.
Already, according to current LEED provisions, a green roof can be used to capture rainwater. Once captured, the water is treatment by flowing either to a gravel-based wetlands zone/retention basin or into a body of water that contains floating islands and myriad plants that take up contaminants.
When water exits these basins, no matter its condition, it can be used for water features, irrigation, or numerous other reasons. Alternatively, this water can be channeled into an “infiltration” basin where water is injected into the ground to help recharge aquifers. This can be helpful in areas where there are issues with seawater intrusion or underground plumes of pollution.
Some LEED projects seek designs that involve remediation of environmentally damaged areas. Indeed, contaminated soil can be helped by properly designed water management – for instance, designs can include choosing plants specifically meant to biologically treat water containing certain contaminants.
In sizing up the LEED point potential of water features, it’s important to recognize that the water features will help earn credits relative to specific situations. The LEED point system and the relative value a “functional” water feature can bring opens the discussion of the role the designer can play in the final design of commercial complexes and residential developments.
Traditionally, designers in their more aesthetic or recreational roles are among the last consulted in a project. Until recently, in fact, fountains, swimming pools, spas, ponds, cascades or interactive water features have been seen as separate and divorced from everything else on site.
With this new green philosophy, designers are becoming integral participants in the process of designing water reclaiming and recycling programs, and providing beauty with function.
Aviram Müller is the founder of Karajaal, a Quebec-based company that designs and engineers distinct and interactive venues using water, lighting effects, fountains and pools.A graduate of Frankfurt University, Aviram has dedicated 25 years to the creation and development of water-based art. Aviram is recognized by his peers as an artist and sculptor with a strong engineering and technical foundation.