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The Countryside as Infrastructure

Award category
Reconnecting with nature
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NEW EUROPEAN BAUHAUS RISING STARS: concepts or ideas submitted by young talents (aged 30 or less)
Project title
The Countryside as Infrastructure
Full concept/idea title
The water's course and drainage in the design of public space

With increasingly frequent phenomena of torrential rains, the soil's waterproofing and artificialization of the water’s course in the cities have complexified and overloaded the draining infrastructures. A transition from unitary to separative sewage system allows for the use of rainwater in ludic and productive paths where the water is held upstream and slowly distributed for the irrigation of gardens in the cities. The water cycle designs public space and reduces pressure on infrastructure.

What is the geographical scope of your concept/idea?
Does your concept/idea address mainly urban or rural issues?
It addresses urban-rural linkages
Does your concept/idea refer to a physical transformation of the built environment or other types of transformations?
It refers to other types of transformations ('soft investment')
Has your concept/idea benefited from EU programmes and/or funds?
Has your concept/idea won an EU prize?
How did you hear about the New European Bauhaus Prizes ?
Social media
On whose behalf are you submitting the application?
As an individual
Please provide a summary of your concept/ idea

Cities tended to be founded near fertile and productive lands, where water was abundant. However, in times of growing soil waterproofing, the artificialization of the water’s course have complexified the hydraulic and natural water systems, making them unable to respond to the increasingly strong and frequent phenomena of torrential rains. Additionally, cities nearby the oceans suffer from simultaneous episodes of torrential rains and the direct tidal effects, overloading weak and insufficient drainage infrastructures.

Regardless of the place, under extreme circumstances there is an inverse, thus unnatural, movement in the infrastructures and they give in to pressure, causing direct discharges of the polluted flows into the receiving environment.

The concept proposes an addition to the unitary sewage, a parallel separative system, enabling a reduction in the load on the downstream infrastructures. The sewage separation allows for the use of rainwater, building recreational and productive paths along which the water is slown down, stored, filtered, disinfected, serving irrigation for local permeable areas. Therefore, the water cycle is incorporated in the design of the city. Usually, infrastructure is noisy and unpleasant and tends to be hidden out of sight. An inverse process is proposed: let us not hide infrastructure but use it to design the city.

A visible, street-level «aqueduct» leads the water through the city, but also uses the typological permanence of old, unused buildings for several program types: ludic (i.e. public baths, parks), services (i.e. showering and public changing rooms), infrastructure (storage, filtering and disinfection tanks) and production (gardens).

Cities are born and grow from water and this concept seeks its praise - through wasted rainwater - while promoting a balance of the ecological systems and reducing the overload on the existing infrastructures.

This idea was explored in Lisbon, but it is applicable in most places.

Please indicate the main themes of your concept/idea with 5 key words
Please give information about the key objectives of your concept/idea in terms of environmental sustainability (including circularity) and how these would be met.
Please highlight how the concept/idea can be exemplary in this context

The complex system of roads, highways and underground infrastructure is continuously increasing, constituting fracturing elements in the urban fabric. Also, the high degree of soil waterproofing means that the water picks every pollutant along the way which are then collected by the sewage system. When torrential rains, evermore stronger and frequent, hit the cities, the combined sewer is overloaded and discharges the polluted blend into the streets with enormous damages to the water cycle and natural ecosystems.

An addition to the combined sewage is a separative system that enables a reduction on the load downstream. A surface infrastructure – visible “aqueduct” – works upstream, parallel to the existing combined sewer. This rainwater drainage scheme allows the creation of controlled runoff conditions, reducing peak flows and erosion by increasing the volume of infiltrated and retained water. Visible and invisible ducts, benches, walls, stairs, tanks and drainpipes allow the continuity of the infrastructure in an urban environment, even when highly impermeable. Old buildings can be integrated in the proposed infrastructure, then feeding the newly permeable interior of housing blocks. Nature can be regenerated, increasing biodiversity in the city.

This gravitational system has an internal slope, allowing for constant pressure on the infrastructure and a slower flow of water, avoiding a lot of afterwards pumping, and is complemented by filtering and decanting structures that clean water to a certain degree and then channel it to different uses like, for example, the irrigation of productive gardens.

The wasted rainwater is now slown down, stored and integrated in (semi) permeable areas, operating on a territorial to landscape and local levels. The proposed infrastructures distribute water, feed the soil through infiltration making it more fertile but also promoting circularity, as it returns the water to its natural cycle, to vegetation, soil and bedsheets.

Please give information about the key objectives of your concept/idea in terms of aesthetics and quality of experience beyond functionality and how these would be met.
Please highlight how the concept/idea can be exemplary in this context

Water is a scarce resource and by disciplining it in the territory, it gains an infrastructural meaning, more than just contemplative, with the landscaping potential it offers - allowing the definition of distinct and diverse atmospheres, but also generating cohesive and generous portions of nature in the city.

Happiness can literally be «planted» in the cities. Both the edible garden and the infrastructure create an intermediate landscape that negotiates urban and rural facts, where cultural, leisure, productive and natural atmospheres are summoned, building an immersive landscape, with no distance and contributing to the creation of places of intimacy between men, nature, water and the food grown.

These transition spaces take shape in surgical interventions, built with parsimony and fundamental design options – a hanging tree that shadows a passage to another place, an edible garden that marks the season’s changing, an aromatic garden that bursts in a chromatic and smelling experience, an old building and the acceptance of its time in the design, a tank that freshens a patio while storing rainwater, a syphon that seduces the entrance to a hidden place, visible ducts that shows the path of water, an invisible one that tells of the murmur of its movement, a water tank that mirrors the sky, a wall to separates us from a view giving meaning to the window after.

Atmospheres are richest with this fluctuation in light, shadow, humidity, smell, sound, color, taste, freshness, warmth, time. The materiality follows the genius loci and the vernacular wisdom of the place and its building ways. Most of all, it matters not if architecture or a flower build the atmosphere. The means to achieve it is less important than the experience provided. Atmospheres matter the most.

All these possibilities slow down the path from the noisy city and welcomes one to a more docile and natural place in a mediation of scale: from the landscape to the touch of hand and taste of the mouth.

Please give information about the key objectives of your concept/idea in terms of inclusion (equal opportunities, public participation, citizen engagement, co-design, universal design, accessibility, affordability, etc.) and how these would be met.
Please highlight how the concept/idea can be exemplary in this context

The new infrastructure is parallel to the existing one and, since it is visible and designs the city, it includes all elements and people who wish to be a part of it.

The housing blocks can be part of the infrastructure by changing their roof drainage path and collecting rainwater into storing tanks that feed several uses. The proposal goes further away and suggests changing the whole interior of the blocks to permeable areas, increasing its infiltration area, where edible gardens and public spaces can take shape, with the final use depending only on how the inhabitants wish to occupy it. Every person can have a possibility of having a portion of land to grow food, animals, do nothing, give others or open to public. Also, using old, unused buildings that become part of the infrastructure can give them a renewed, generous life.

There can be raised awareness regarding this «now wasted» resource if people become more sensible mediators and are included in the infrastructural process. This inclusive concept is applicable everywhere - in city centers, suburban areas and even in the countryside - and, in each place, it has the potential to enrich public and shared spaces for everyone to use. Also, each place needs a specific design adapted to its concrete reality and there is a great advantage in working with local institutions and residents because no one know the places better than them. Having them co-designing is only an add-up.

There is a possibility to allow every citizen that wishes this closer-to-nature relationship. Furthermore, people understand better things they can see and seeing the infrastructure allows them to comprehend it and even make sense of the whole water cycle, which can then raise awareness and have an effective impact on people’s everyday actions by working upstream and towards a more balanced planet.

Being both applicable everywhere and a parallel system to the existing one the infrastructure is accessible and affordable to all.

Please explain how these three dimensions would be combined in your concept/idea.
Please highlight how this approach can be exemplary

The possibility of deviating the current rainwater flow to a surface drainage system, designing places for recreation, production, storage and infiltration, is an opportunity to design a holistic public space for everyone.

The draining capacities and virtues of the countryside are applicable to the city if we understand how landscape works. Making the infrastructure visible is a change in paradigm – by not hiding it but using it to design and integrate wasted rainwater in public spaces, we shall have a greater respect for water and its natural cycle. Being visible also means it is less complicated and more easily maintained.

Water is a major part of «man-made natural environment» but, since it is a scarce resource, it must be more than just contemplative, it needs to have an infrastructural potential. This is an infrastructural path along which one can grasp the totality of landscape in small portions of it. Lucius Burkchard said that we can only appreciate the landscape if we know how it works. Understanding the waters course, how it is slown down, stored, cleaned, distributed and how it affects a plant grow or simply freshen a place, it deepens the communities’ relationship with nature and the nature of things.

Delaying the water’s course and allowing its permanence intensifies spaces and their atmospheres. It also gives them an immanent character, combining the intimacy of water with the scale of landscape. The edible gardens that complement the infrastructure are also places of great familiarity and they add biological, nutritious and spatial biodiversity to the paths.

Conducting water and designing a garden is drawing time. The time, quietness and silence they offer is sometimes all that people need in cities.

This proposal is local-oriented, being based on contexts, vernacular construction systems and traditions, but it is highly transferable and replicated in different environments. These are local solutions to a global challenge.

Please highlight the innovative character of the concept/idea as compared to mainstream practices in the field of the concept/idea.

In a world where water is scarce, we can’t afford rainwater from torrential phenomena being wasted. We must find ways to use the water that, through its natural cycle but out of proportions, reaches the ground. This is a simple proposal in a complex world.

The proposed infrastructure is a humble system, based on empirical and vernacular knowledge. However, this doesn’t mean that it lost its meaning or purpose, it intends to be a useful look at history, simply requiring a change in perspective. It is rather spatially innovative - it suggests that infrastructure leaves the underground environment to the surface, it applies the countryside’s draining virtues to the city and integrates into the city subjects that are typically away from it– which are precise gestures and exact measures in meticulous environments.

Gravity water conduction systems, retarding systems that allow its constant flow, schemes for cleaning and decanting rainwater in retaining elements and irrigation systems in productive gardens are explored. Simple systems are sought to make use of vernacular knowledge, responding to its requests in a fair and essential way, without this corresponding to a new technological complexity or requirements.

These days, the ideas proposed to solve stormwater and sewage problems are, generally, either short-term oriented or too far away. This one fills in the gaps, corresponding to an immediate action with short, medium and long-term profits.

By disciplining this scant element in the territory, it gains an infrastructural meaning, more than just contemplative, with benefits regarding the landscaping potential it offers, allowing the definition of distinct places with diverse atmospheres that can generate a cohesive and unified portion of nature in the city.

Please detail the general plans that you have for the further development, promotion and/or implementation of your concept/idea.

It seems that a data-based investigation should be matured, to calculate precise areas of infiltration and permeable soil that can be added to a standard interior of housing block in the city or suburban area and then estimate it to a bigger portion of territory. Besides the data regarding the prospects, calculations regarding the actual amount of water saved, stored, cleaned and then used at each sector – leisure, production or infrastructure – can help measure the solid and tangible human impact on that part of land and environment.

To do this, it is necessary to define a «pilot area» where a sample of territory is tested. Then, it is necessary to design a proposal for that specific location. The design was tested to a place in Lisbon, but the data investigation still need work. Only with a particular design and data to support it, can the information be spread to the local population and evaluate the proposal’s acceptance.

Also, it is suggested to do a solid inventory on the local resident’s intention to participate in the project and how they can cooperate.

Finally, it seems important to apply the project to a completely different context than the originally one as to assess its transferability and replicability, but it is expect to be highly efficient.

Imagine that your idea/concept is awarded in the New European Bauhaus Prizes 2022. What kind of initiatives would you take throughout the following year (June 2022- June 2023)

It is necessary to establish a contact channel with local institutions (municipalities, town halls, counties, associations, groups of people) to understand which area could be a suitable option for this pilot project: where it might be important to engage with local population, where there are possibilities to understand the public and private property and how the edible garden could take shape in such hybrid property schemes. In case of public property, parcels of fertile land could be assigned to people who wish to plant it, or it could be rented, being prioritized the residents of the block.

Afterwards, there would be awareness approaches to encourage changes in the interior of housing blocks from impermeable to permeable and in the adjustment of roof drainage to store water. There would be proposed events where the residents could share knowledge of the place and territory to help design the best option for them.

The process can take shape in parts, like fragments. Firstly, the roofing drainage could be adapted to store the water in tanks in the interior of building blocks. After some time, it could checked how much water is saved and prevented from being wasted and this data ought to be confronted with the population to assess the continuity of the project. A second step could be a gradual change in the soil, from impermeable to permeable. Thirdly, there could be introduced the concept of the edible garden and proposed an experiment with a pilot plot. In fourth place, an old and unused building of the block could be converted into a place with different possible programs – leisure, productive or infrastructural – for public use.

By ticking this box, you declare that you are not in in one or more of the exclusion situations foreseen under Article 136 of the Financial Regulation.
By ticking this box, you declare that all the information provided in this form is factually correct, that you assume sole liability in the event of a claim relating to the activities carried out in the framework of the contest, that the proposed concept/idea has not been proposed for the New European Bauhaus Prizes 2022 in any other category or strand and that it has not been subject to any type of investigation, which could lead to a financial correction because of irregularities or fraud.
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By submitting your application, you understand that all the applications that meet the eligibility requirements will be shared for the purposes of the selection processes, and notably published on the secured platform and for the purposes of the promotion of these on the New European Bauhaus website and/or other European Commission communication channels. In this sense, the applications would be widely available. Applicants should ensure that they present their ideas, concepts, projects, in such a way that they could be shared without giving rise to intellectual property related concerns. If your submission is selected as one of the finalists, it will additionally be shared for the purpose of the public vote that will take place. The European Union is granted a licence to use and share your application with the general public and the official external experts for the purposes of the selection process, including the voting. The European Union has the right to use the images and visual materials and the description provided in the application for communication purposes related to the contest and beyond. Rights granted comprise the right to store, reproduce, display, publish and communicate or distribute copies in electronic or digital format, including, but not only, through the internet. Unless you have disclosed your name, the European Commission has no obligation to share your name when using or disseminating your contribution to the public. The European Union cannot be held responsible in case any submitted idea, project, concept is found to infringe third parties rights. The European Union shall be neither responsible for the use that third parties may do of the applications or related content.


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