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Brief Published: 29 Mar 2018

Water Futures: Designing Sustainable Systems

A/D/O 'Water Futures'

Brooklyn design hub A/D/O has launched Water Futures, a year-long research programme encouraging designers and scientists to forge cross-disciplinary solutions to water security. The initiative was set up in response to fears around looming water scarcity, as discussed in Designing for Drought. We gather the takeaways from the inaugural event on March 21.

  • Target Infrastructure: Dr. Upmanu Lall, professor at Columbia University’s Water Center in New York, urged designers to tackle ageing infrastructure. “[America’s] dams were expected to last 30-50 years – they’re approaching 65,” lamented Lall. Lall suggested that repairing dams could mitigate water waste from flooding in at-risk areas.

  • Make Plastics Multi-Use: Beyond outmoded infrastructure endangering cities, speakers highlighted plastics’ presence in nature – such as the Great Pacific garbage patch – as a threat to water security. Emma Riley of sustainability incubator Lonely Whale pressed marketers to reject campaigns promoting disposable plastic items like straws and toys. Alex Groves of London-based design firm Studio Swine declared that “plastic is an amazing material that shouldn’t be disposable”.

    For more on sustainable approaches to plastic, see our reports Toys Transformed into Furniture, Packaging Innovations 2018 and Rethinking Plastics.
  • Leverage the Cityscape: Mary Miss, founder of New York think tank City as Living Laboratory, advised designers to engage communities with projects that prompt discussion around water use. In 2017, Miss partnered with Milwaukee, Wisconsin to turn a smoke stack at the local water treatment centre into an indicator of water quality – on high quality days, the stack appears blue; on poor quality days, it turns red. 

For more on water sustainability, see Water: Sustaining Supplies.