A few weeks back, we participated in Dutch Design Week: a 9 day celebration of innovative design spread across the city of Eindhoven. In preparation for the Radical Collaboration Lab Water is Life, we took a special interest in how exhibiting designers approached some of the social and ecological issues affected by water and water quality.

Water is Life, in partnership with Waternet, will explore what questions need to be answered by the design community in order to maintain the vital water climate surrounding Amsterdam. The examples we saw during DDW revealed how this is a pressing issue for many in the Netherlands and across the globe. Water health and accessibility is at risk from climate change, and we need to prepare for the consequences. From urine regeneration, to ink made from sewage, to tackling historical land debates – this article explore the practical, political, and thought provoking water-related works seen at DDW.


The Embassy of Water exhition at Het Lab looked directly at issues surrounding water quality and water circularity. The creative water lab included exhibitions by eight designers working with partners from the Embassy. The work opened a space for creatives, experts and visitors to collaborate on new ideas. The solutions were explorative but practical; using both pragmatic and innovative solutions to open a dialogue and inspire new perceptions on water and the systems that surround it. Below are a few examples of these future-proof, lateral solutions. Take for instance, exploring the possibilities of harnessing human waste:


Anthroponix presents a vision for a circular community in which residents of Campina, the former factory ‘Wild Land’, can become co-producers of their own green environment. Primarily, the regeneration of human waste: using urine as fertilizer. The body only absorbs upto 15% of nutrients, therefore 85% retains in urine. From this, three vital plant survival nutrients (Phosphorus, Nitrogen and Potassium) could be put to use, rather than flushed away – which wastes up to 33 litres of clean drinking water per person every day. Anthroponix proposes to process this wastewater on site, in which the fertilising power would add up to 207 square metres per person per year, and 30 hectares of green environment for 1500 inhabitants of new campina areas. The project reintroduces humans into the food loop, closing the nutrient cycle and allowing for a new circular and regenerative living environment to emerge.


Ceramicist Lotte de Raadt worked with drinking water supplier Brabant Water to produce a drinking water passport. With her design, she seeks to raise awareness about water usage. Drinking water is extracted from a variety of different sources – the passport celebrates its unique journey from source to tap, giving water a clearer identity.


Sum Waste, created by Garrett Benisch seeks to challenge the perceptions we hold with waste and disgust, by creating functional products from wastewater. This includes a pen and ink created from materials derived from biosolids, or digested sewage. By confronting users with this pen, the associations we have with ‘waste’ are questioned in place of functionality. In the US alone, 1270 metric tonnes of biosolids go to landfill instead of being put to use. Sum Waste provokes us to rethink what we really consider as waste.


Studio Nienke Hoogvliet challenges our habitual actions in favour of a cleaner water system: water is full of residual medicines, chemicals and microplastics – so what if we were to change some of our everyday rituals to prevent further pollution, like using natural soap or not using synthetic sponges and toothbrushes? Coalition takes the purifying elements of activated carbon and investigates how it could clean both our bodies, environment and water. Together with Waterboard de Dommel, they designed a new cleaning system where the wastewater that washes away would immediately become cleaner.


Studio 1:1’s tree roster serves to tackle social challenges through circularity and water retention. The grid is made from the clippings of stream banks, a residual material from De Dommel Water board, thus making it a biobased circular material. The grid retains water temporarily, which benefits the urban climate adaptation as the water is not lost to the sewers immediately. Instead, the water is released slowly at the root of the tree, counteracting sewer peak loads, improving soil quality, and improving groundwater balance in dry periods.


On the model of shared living, Space and Matter’s new floating housing development has the goal to be 100% circular. Schoonship, translating to ‘clean ship’ will host 46 dwellings across 30 houseboats. It promotes community empowerment, closing loops and going ‘off the grid’ to reclaim control and responsibility over local resources. It aims to be Amsterdam’s most sustainable and innovative neighbourhood.


In the area of Meuse, the origin of drinking water is variable, thus making it very difficult to maintain its high quality. In order to streamline this process, Hugo Schuitemaker created a system in which the residents connected to Meuse via the sewage system can show their commitment to a cleaner Meuse by simultaneously flushing a special marker. The marker will allow Schone Maaswaterketen to continue effectively mapping the origin of drinking water.


Due to the effects of climate change, heavier rainfall can follow long periods of drought, overwhelming the sewers and causing flooding. In collaboration with the city of Eindhoven, Studio Bas Sala sought to rethink how we could reuse the rainwater for watering gardens, and prevent a strain on the sewers. The DIY designs are easy to make, thus encouraging the public to follow suite; a combined public effort would mean an effective distribution of water.


In a similar way to the DIY rain water project, Teresa van Dongen in partnership with Waterschap de Dommel, created Tubey to encourage the public to repurpose rainwater in order to stop it being lost to the sewers. The modular design allows for people to create their own solutions, introducing city dwellers to water conservation in a playful way.


In the exhibition hosted by Transnatural, we were presented with a selection of work that explores the age of post drought: featuring artists across the globe who respond to the global water crisis, exploring how design, artistic and (bio) technological developments can contribute to solutions for water issues. Below are a couple of examples from this highly immersive and stimulating exhibition.


In environments of increased rainfall, rising temperatures and sea levels, Jolan van der Wiel shows in his project Tropic City, how these elements can be starting points for innovative design approaches. In an attempt to embrace these changing landscapes, Tropic City investigates the relevant forms, techniques and materials for this tropical future. The structure, between the realm of design and architecture, follows the life of a raindrop. The playful approach invites the viewer to travel through many routes alongside the raindrop, marvel at the dynamism of water and open a discussion to what practical solutions are needed in times of water scarcity and excess.


Artist Lenant Lahius employs the poetic words of writer Diane Raines in his explorative installation, inspired by the issues raised by the Age of Post Drought exhibition. The work is influenced by one of the most notable historic discourses in the Netherlands: the Dutch saga of land conquest and the taming of waters. By critically engaging with this history, the installation challenges the current water management policies of the country, casting an inquisitive look at the status quo while researching the causes of artificial drought.


Gabrielle Diamanti’s Eliodomestico serves as a purification system for private use, developed for third world countries with a higher risk of drought and water pollution. Through solar power, the system can purify 5 litres of water every day – even in the driest and hottest of weather conditions. The open source design only uses a few resources, of which can easily be sustainable materials such as terracotta and recycled plastic. The design works like a reversed coffee filter; during the day the sun heats the water, which allows condensation to take place, thus producing the purified water.


Studio Formafantasma worked in collaboration with Viennese company J. & L. Lobmeyr to produce a series of objects, instruments and tools that can purify water. The objects are designed to transform the act of purification into a daily, almost religious ritual. Still encourages the user to participate in this process through the fine craft and desirable materials each object is created from. The engravings are reminiscent of precious artefacts, and the sensitivity of the purification instills a sense of responsibility and preciousness in the process. In this way, Still aims to inspire people to become more aware of their daily water usage.


Artist Robertina Sebjanic investigates the impact of noise pollution of aquatic life in her installation, Aquatocene. Sebajanic has travelled the world recording the noise nuisances that are found in our waters. The effects of pollution from sources like off-shore industries, construction activity, fisheries and water sports are still obscure, but with two thirds of all fish species living in Dutch freshwater belonging to a group of ‘hearing specialists’, the negative effects of this pollution need to be discussed. Her large database of sounds serve as the base for her audiovisual performances, and sounds from the seas around Vlieland and the IJ river in Amsterdam informed the DDW aquatocene installation. The work aims to open the discussion surrounding noise pollution and the aquatic ecology that inhabit our water sources.


By taking the EU-banned Pulse-Fishing nets, Maze de Boer brings ocean pollution to our attention; around 50% of plastic soup exists of fishing nets. Although these nets can be recycled, a great deal still pollute our waters. The installation is part of the Transnatural residency programme, and was bought to DDW as an extension from the first exhibit at Oerol, which challenged the global sea level rise.

These examples show how artists across the globe and in the Netherlands are responding to the global water crisis – raising awareness, challenging our preconceptions, and providing real solutions to local and global issues. In the Water is Life Lab, we hope to take these challenges even further, with a focus on the vital waters surrounding Amsterdam. It is a shared responsibility to protect these waters and our environment, which requires a new approach to bring all involved parties together. The lab will involve a range of experts, creatives and stakeholders, prepared to roll up their sleeves and dive deep into bringing this issue to the forefront of change. Think you’d make a great addition to this working conference? Get involved by applying to one of our limited community tickets, and let us know why the Water is Life lab needs you!