The Politics of Water: Andrés Jaque on His 2015 MoMA PS1 YAP Winning Design

This year’s pavilion will put the thorny issue of water management on the map.

Images courtesy Office for Political Innovation

At first glance, Bill Gates’s robotic Janicki Omniprocessor and Andrés Jaque’s winning proposal for the 2015 MoMA PS1 Young Architects Program (YAP) share a similar goal—they each tackle the problem of global water scarcity, which has become exacerbated by climate change, political strife, and a host of other factors. But while the Omniprocessor looks like a cement factory in miniature, Jaque’s project melds its profoundly social objective—to change the way we understand contemporary water infrastructure—to an almost psychedelic aesthetic.

Designed by Jaque’s Office for Political Innovation, “COSMO: Give me a pipe and I will move/celebrate the Earth” conforms to the environmental bent of YAP’s more recent iterations. Last year, the The Living’s towers of compostable mycelium-based bricks embodied ecological concerns of waste and production. In 2012, Hollwich-Kushner’s Wendy pavilion employed titania nanoparticles to combat airborne pollutants. Spurred by events like the water wars in Bolivia, Jaque pegged a more fundamental resource to address: water. “Can we design something that celebrates water as resource, instead of a tool of punishment,” he asks, referencing the politics of water in the Bolivian crisis.

The intricate suspended structure, made from custom-made irrigation components, runs water through a continuous loop of natural filters. Water starts at the base of the pavilion where a “complex and resilient ecosystem” does a first pass of purification, lasting four days, after which the water is pumped upwards. From there, it flows back downward and undergoes further treatment—clear pipes use UV light to kill microorganisms, a waterfall oxygenates the water, and, finally, plants in acrylic bowls collect non-organic pollutants in their roots. After this cycle is complete, the process repeats. As Jaque sums it up, the water’s filtration is driven by sunlight and natural ecologies at no extra expenditure of electricity. 

The 3,000 gallons of water flowing through COSMO will be provided by New York City in a semi-treated state. The city’s voluntary involvement is important for Jaque, making the structure an extension of an industrial process hidden from the public and their participation. (Metropolis covered a similar undertaking by the Water Pore Partnership in January 2015). The pavilion is situated on wheels that ostensibly render the whole apparatus mobile, fulfilling Jaque’s mandate to publicize the manner in which the city’s water is, or could be, treated. Jaque even plans to introduce bioluminescent micro-organisms to the process; these would cause the water to glow when it is purified to a certain level. For those who can’t make the trip to Brooklyn, sensors will transmit the water’s progress to an app that aims to make the discussion global.

Yet, the visitor’s experience is essential, Jaque insists. “We designed something that could be rich in the senses and climatically enjoyable while enabling us to relate to water in a more contemporary way.” However, for Jaque, the architecture and technology that supports these processes are more than an enjoyable artifact—they’re the culmination of his office’s collaboration with hydraulic engineers, algae biologists, water-purification experts, and a network of other specialists.  “It’s important for us to see COSMO as a prototype,” says Jaque. “A prototype combining many intelligences in a way that makes them accessible to a global audience that can then replicate what’s experimented here.”

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