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Out of Water Project Aims to Highlight Solutions to Water Issues

By Kirstin Butler

Access to clean drinking water is already a major issue for millions. Studies predict that falling water levels will become a primary trigger for climate-related conflict within the next 50 years. (In fact, climate warfare already transcends the theoretical: the phenomenon of water wars has become its own reporting beat.) That's why a new project highlighting solutions to these issues couldn’t be more timely.


Out of Water is a traveling exhibition and forthcoming book about water technologies for arid climates. The project focuses on the quarter of the Earth’s land currently threatened by desertification and extreme water shortages. First displayed at the University of Toronto, Out of Water comes from two faculty members at the school’s architecture and landscape design programs. Aziza Chaouni and Liat Margolis curated the project with the real world in mind, and perhaps their dual status as academics and practitioners accounts for the initiative’s mix of theoretical and pragmatic approaches to the water crisis.

Divided roughly in half, the project both explores existing water technologies and speculative proposals. Twenty-four case studies focus on current tools for collection, conversion, and distribution of water in locations as diverse as Angola and Israel that -- cultural differences notwithstanding -- share the challenge of diminishing water supply. For example, Arizona-based architect Wayne Jenski’s “Porous Skin” was developed as a temporary water-collection solution for Doctors Without Borders clinics. The project is also proving that sometimes the simplest approaches can have tremendous impact. In the case of the Dixon Land Imprinting Machine, it literally transforms arid and over-farmed soil by selectively impacting the ground to restore its porosity.



The 10 speculative proposals that comprise Out of Water’s "Future" section were solicited from up-and-coming architects, designers, technologists, and urban planners.
In this section, the Fletcher Studio took on Los Angeles’ antiquated infrastructure and sprawl by imagining a deliberate viral infection of the city. In a kind of post-apocalyptic fantasy, residents abandon intentionally inoculated areas and resettle into denser neighborhoods where water has been reclaimed and desalinated.


Chaouni and Margolis take the United Nations World Water Development Report, which was released earlier this year, as their contextual framework. Among the report’s findings and projections: water use has tripled over the last 50 years mostly as a result of growing agricultural needs, and very dry areas have more than doubled (from around 12% to 30%) since the 1970s. With world population expected to increase from six to nine billion between the years 2000 and 2050, people living in parts of the developing world and arid areas such as the American southwest could indeed find themselves out of water as agriculture and energy pressures increase.

The trick is making sure that projects like Out of Water transcend the potentially hermetic worlds of academia and design. This initiative features the kind of interdisciplinary approach of design and science that not only points the way out of our current crisis, but also enables young practitioners to think creatively about how to respond to our most pressing environmental challenges. Nonetheless, it will take the combined will and action of individuals to ground such prescriptions in daily life.

Out of Water will be on view at Ohio State University from October 26-December 11.

Professors Chaouni and Margolis are also speaking about OOW at the upcoming Hydrocity conference on November 6th at the University of Toronto.

Kirstin Butler is a generalist editor, researcher, and writer who lives in Brooklyn. She holds a Bachelor’s in art & architectural history and a Master’s in public policy from Harvard University.

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Another way to improve the awareness of water consumption

Nice try!

Posted by: sarah on 21 Oct 09

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