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Water in architecture

22 of January '24

The article is from A&B issue 10|23

When I was asked to write an article on water in architecture, I felt like refining the topic and narrowing it down to water retention. After all, such a defined topic is immensely broad, covered by hundreds of professionals and popularizers related to both the narrow - building - aspect of architecture and the scale of the entire city.

So I won't write about water as an element of ideas and composition, as this is a topic better recognized by architecture scholars and used by design masters of the stature of Tadao Ando. Nor will I consider the issue of the apparent water-building dichotomy, keeping in mind that, after all, we have been erecting buildings since the dawn of time primarily to protect ourselves from water (rain) and other natural phenomena. However, I will try to look at the issues closest to my areas of research and design, namely architecture as part of the urban ecosystem and, in this context, the architecture-water relationship. They motivate the search for other, innovative solutions - slightly different applications of already known solutions or combining them with each other. The goal is to define the relationship between water and architecture - instead of visual issues the actual, functional insertion of architecture into the structure of the urban ecosystem.

What's innovative about this? Why do we need this ecosystem at all? After all, the city is the kingdom of man, so buildings are already enough. Well, exactly, are we sure? We already knew at the end of the industrial era that without nature it is difficult to live in a city. What has changed 100-150 years later? Unfortunately, not much. When it comes to the relationship between man and nature, we are still stuck in the paradigm from the time of Descartes, fighting against every manifestation of nature's naturalness with enormous efforts and resources. Because wild and disorderly "bushes" can grow for themselves in forests (most of which are regulated and orderly timber cultivation), but not in our tidy and "clean" cities. There is no place for lush grass and bushes here. There is also no place for wild animals. The place of roe deer, hares, elk, not to mention wild boar, after all, is in the forest. In urban areas, we would sooner tolerate advertising chaos, clutter of light poles, very important boxes, trafostations and other not necessarily aesthetic elements than wild "messy" nature.

Montownia - Doki, na terenie Młodego Miasta w Gdańsku - tereny byłej Stoczni, pod nadzorem WKZ,

Montownia - Doki, in the area of the Young City in Gdansk - the grounds of the former Shipyard, under the supervision of the WKZ, - proj.: studio team Rayss Group

photo: the author

But, after all, it was supposed to be about water, not animals and brushwood, what has one to do with the other? Everything. Treating nature only in aesthetic terms takes away its basic functionality. Those trimmed lawns, trees in pots or micro-holes in concrete covered with substrate, even green roofs will not provide us with ecosystem services if we don't let them at least functionally approach the ecosystem. What does this mean? What is an ecosystem?

The definition on Wikipedia, drawn from several sources, is: "Ecosystem (Gr. oikos - house, dwelling, farm; Gr. systēmatikós - juxtaposed from sýstēma - juxtaposition, combination from synistánai - to juxtapose) - a dynamic ecological system consisting of a set of organisms (biocenosis) connected by trophic relationships (forming a trophic network) together with the environment occupied by it, i.e. a biotope, in which the flow of energy and circulation of matter takes place. [...] Ecosystems are distinguished on the basis of the existence of stronger connections within them than between their components and the environment (biologically important chemical elements circulate more intensively within individual ecosystems than between them)."

Significantly, an ecosystem is not only a structure consisting of a biocenosis, i.e. the animate part of the ecosystem simplified to "nature," but also a non-living part called a biotope, which also includes soil and water. An ecosystem is first and foremost a dynamic system - a changing one, and the set of organisms that inhabit it (biocenosis) is connected by trophic relationships and the flow of energy and resources from the biotope to the biocenosis and back again. And this is where water enters the scene. Also energy and matter of all kinds circulating in this endless ecosystem cycle. Where is the place for architecture here?

Montownia - Doki, na terenie Młodego Miasta w Gdańsku - tereny byłej Stoczni, pod nadzorem WKZ,

Montownia - Doki, in the area of the Young City in Gdansk - the grounds of the former Shipyard, under the supervision of the WKZ, - proj.: studio team Rayss Group

photo: author

If we transfer the ecosystem model to urban conditions, architecture as an inanimate part of the ecosystem is a biotope. I like the comparison of the functionality of architecture to rocks in natural ecosystems. However, rocks are, on the one hand, home to animal organisms actively participating in the circulation of matter through photosynthesis, respiration and so on, on the other hand, the basis for theformation of soil, a kind of storehouse for inanimate matter, and a place for the decomposition of more complex compounds formed in the course of the circulation of matter by higher organisms, decomposed again into simpler elements primarily through the work of destructors, a kind of digestive system of the ecosystem.

How does this translate into the water-architecture relationship? Water is the carrier of life and the element that distributes in the ecosystem the dissolved organic and mineral matter most easily assimilated by living organisms. We need water full of minerals, because these are then most easily assimilated, also water to be part of the biotope as part of the architecture. So the most difficult element for the architect by design should be full of life - bacteria, microorganisms. But what about corrosion, erosion and so on? This is the basic difficulty - if we treat a building as a biotope, we need to change our thinking about it as a finite object. Rocks and soil are elements subject to constant change, over a longer or shorter period of time. Meanwhile, for us, architecture is something we would like to design once, preferably in an ideal form, build and maintain, so that it always looks and functions as it did on the day of commissioning. This, in my opinion, is the biggest challenge for architects and other designers involved in the ecosystem design of architecture.

Montownia - Doki, na terenie Młodego Miasta w Gdańsku - tereny byłej Stoczni, pod nadzorem WKZ,

Montownia - Doki, in the area of the Young City in Gdansk - the grounds of the former Shipyard, under the supervision of the WKZ, - proj.: Rayss Group studio team

photo: author

How to design architectural objects so that they are compatible with the functioning legal realities, and at the same time enable this change necessary for the functionality of ecosystems? The key issue here will be material and process. It's worth approaching the subject using the method of small steps, and these we are already doing - we have more and more experience in the material area. It started with vernacular architecture and recycled materials. The next step is materials based on plants other than wood, easier to obtain, such as hempcrete, hempcrete. There has also been the emergence of water-permeable cavernous concrete, increasingly used in paving.Recent years have seen further examples of building materials that even use bimorphism and biophilia - "living materials" - living concrete.

Earlier this year, DARPA, or the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, unveiled the results of a project with living materials. These are "materials that have characteristics of living organisms, such as the ability to self-regenerate, adapt and respond to external stimuli. An example of this is concrete, which will repair defects on its own or change color depending on the time of day and even shape depending on temperature or humidity. "1 According to the description: "micro-cracks in concrete are considered part of the hardening process and do not necessarily cause a decrease in strength. Concrete manufacturers' standards allow micro-cracks of about 0.2 mm in width. However, over time, water with aggressive chemicals enters the tiny cracks and the concrete corrodes. - For strength reasons, it is better to seal such micro-cracks," says one of the authors of the patent, Dr. Henk Jonkers "2.

Bacteria of the genus Bacillus have been used here to rebuild the structure of the concrete, interacting with water soaking into the concrete. The quoted Dr. Henk Jonkers is a microbiologist working with concrete technologist Erik Schlangen. The process of producing such concrete itself is simple: "all you have to do is add special granules containing bacterial spores and a nutrient derived from milk - calcium lactate - to a mixture of cement, aggregate, sand and water. "3

inwestycja Doki Living, projekt zieleni i zagospodarowania wody opadowej: zespół pracowni Rayss Group

Doki Living investment, greenery and rainwater management project: Rayss Group studio team

Photo: author

For buildings to become a full-fledged biotope, however, more is needed. For decades, vegetation has been introduced into the structure of buildings: on roofs, facades and even entire buildings. The first examples of such architecture were certainly the works of Antonio Gaudi or Friedensreich Hundertwasser. However, this was more often done for aesthetic and decorative purposes than for ecological purposes, since such solutions usually require intensive watering of plants. In this area, too, enormous progress can be seen. From the days of the so-called vegetation brick - Stanley Hart White's Botanical Bricks - from the 1930s used for putting up green walls and even green buildings, unfortunately only in theory - we have come to solutions such as Moss-Growing Concrete or Respyre - bioreceptive concrete that allows moss to grow on its surface.
Super-ecological structures that grow themselves4 are, for the time being, more experiments by architects showing how to use nature in construction than ordinary practice.

A few years ago, German architect Ferdinand Ludwig presented a pavilion created by growing trees, and one of the hits of Milan Design Week was Carlo Ratti's structure created from mushrooms that then decompose a previously created object.



pic: © Joanna Rayss

Ferdinand Ludwig coined the term baubotanik. His growing structure was created more than seven years ago. Just as with Carlo Ratti, death and decay are inherent in the design, with Ludwig it is growth that matters. Crucially, Ferdinand Ludwig predicts that the full effect will not be visible until a decade at the earliest!

retencja w substracie glebowym na dachu budynku - osiedle DOKI, Gdańsk,

Retention in the soil substrate on the roof of the building - DOKI estate, Gdansk, - greenery proj.: Rayss Group

Photo: author

However, these are still test projects, more akin to art than everyday architecture. In order for all these technologies to come into existence, gradually turning our cities into a real urban ecosystem, we must first solve the problem of water and its circulation within the biotope - architecture. I have been taking up this challenge for years, starting with retention in rain gardens next to buildings, gradually integrating it more and more boldly into buildings in various ways, so that it is the basis for the ecosystemic circulation of matter and facilitates the integration of the building with its natural surroundings. Yes these are small steps, and as a landscape architect myself, I am not up to the challenge. I need your cooperation - you who specialize in structures, architecture, installations, but also hydrology, ecology, botany, phytosociology and even computer science and economics. Only together can we fully integrate water into a building, enabling it to become part of the city's ecosystem structure - the city of the future, the only solution for the survival of us humans on this planet!

zmarnowana okazja - martwa woda w sztucznym zbiorniku w CH Forum w Gdańsku

A missed opportunity - dead water in an artificial reservoir at the Forum Shopping Center in Gdansk.

photo: Author

Joanna Rayss

Photo: Author

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The vote has already been cast