Currently on show at A/D/O’s creative space in Brooklyn is Water Futures, an innovative exhibition exploring the global water crisis and proposing ways we can tackle it. The show represents the culmination of a year-long research programme of the same name, initiated by A/D/O in partnership with Jane Withers Studio, and will be open until 25 April. With 844 million people currently lacking access to clean drinking water and with water scarcity affecting more than 40 per cent of the global population, the exhibition couldn’t be taking place at a more pertinent time.
As environmental issues such as this become increasingly urgent and global, the need for innovation is inescapable. It’s for this reason that MINI created A/D/O in the first place as an “incubator and catalyst to actively support investments” that could provide genuine positive change. The Water Futures Research Program emerged as A/D/O’s main focus for 2018 in an effort to consider “critical issues of design, and [foster] dialogue through programming, exhibitions, and collaborations”.
In turn, over the past year, A/D/O has hosted over 15 symposia, workshops, lectures, exhibitions and curated events, as well as an open design challenge as part of the research programme. Over 2,000 designers from 30 countries submitted proposals to the design challenge, each proposing solutions to international drinking-water concerns, from which a shortlist of nine ideas were selected. Each team was then paired with an expert mentor who helped further develop their idea and three overall winners were finally chosen; all of whom, alongside the other six finalists, are exhibiting as part of the Water Futures exhibition.
“Design can have a significant impact. That’s a core value of MINI and A/D/O. Water Futures was a perfect platform to showcase our investment in the future of design. Our goal was to inspire and rally the global design community to use their creativity to spark change,” says Esther Bahne, vice president of strategy and innovation at MINI.
The design challenge was judged by a panel including A/D/O, Debera Johnson of Pratt, Joshua Kogan of the EPA, director of Columbia Water Centre Dr. Upmanu Lall, professor and designer Fiona Raby, and Water Futures’ curator Jane Withers, who selected the best entries from three categories: Future Objects and Materials, Future Information and Communications, and Future Systems and Infrastructure.
From the first category, Future Objects and Materials, both Ulysse Martel’s project Filtering Glass Straw and Crème and Jun Aizaki Architecture and Design’s Hy-O Cup emerged as finalists, but it was Clara Schweers’ project Waters that took the category. Waters is a series of ritualistic, poetic glass objects that reframe our relationship with water, presenting it as a precious living element rather than a product. As water evaporates from the objects, traces of its existence are left behind on the glass, thus proving that water is alive and ever-changing.
Future Information and Communications saw three projects named as finalists: Water Map by Only If (a team comprised of Adam Snow Frampton, AIA and Karolina Czeczek), Rare by G2G™ (Guillaume Berthillier and Gaëtan Robert) and Opacify: Design Nudges for Sustainable Consumption by Post Carbon Lab (Dian-Jen Lin).
In this category, The Water Runs Through Us by Katherine Ball was named as the winner. It’s a project that envisions a system that transports and transforms water from New York’s East River into an immersive bathing ritual. A transparent aqueduct carries water above ground from Bushwick Inlet to A/D/O, where the water moves through a series of tanks containing beneficial bacteria, membrane filters, and biological filters that purify the water. The water eventually reaches a bathtub filled with halophytic – or salt-tolerant – plants in which visitors can take a dip.
Finally, Assemble Mass AKA Jason Kim’s project Water Everywhere was named as a finalist in the Future Systems and Infrastructure category, while Indus, a project by BIO-ID (Shneel Malik, Prof. Marcos Cruz, and Dr. Brenda Parker), took the top spot. Indus is a modular wall system of leaf-like clay tiles that purify water via bio-remediation, aimed at small-scale artisan industries in India which often struggle to manage wastewater treatment with limited resources. Its vein-like channels can isolate heavy metals from wastewater and degrade compounds from textile dyes, offering a low-energy alternative to chemical wastewater treatment and enabling rural communities to purify water on site for reuse within their manufacturing processes.
“The past year has broken unimaginable barriers on the water front – among other things, we’ve witnessed a major city at the brink of running dry and finally woken up to the catastrophic impact of marine plastic pollution – underlining the severity of the crisis, and forcing the realisation that the ways in which we use and abuse this vital resource must be urgently rethought,” says Jane Withers. “Water Futures residency at A/D/O has been an extraordinary opportunity to bring together experts from different disciplines and create an experimental framework for design to help shape the future.”
In addition to the three design challenge winners, A/D/O is asking the public to vote on their favourite concepts, and you can do so on its website. Water Futures the exhibition is open in A/D/O’s creative space in Brooklyn until 25 April.
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.