From its inception, life has had a conflicted relationship with water. On one hand, water is an essential ingredient for life, and living organisms depend on water for their continued survival. On the other hand, water presents tremendous perils as a destructive force of nature—whether in the form of a tsunami, flood, or pond harboring pathogenic microbes. As a result, humans’ relationship with the liquid water constituent of the planet—known as the hydrosphere—has embodied this inherently contradictory pairing of life and death.
Water has long held deep religious and cultural significance for many cultures, and its utilization as a resource has transformed the natural landscape, giving form to cities and infrastructure. Despite water’s importance, however, its implicit dangers have encouraged its strict control. Throughout architectural history, the hydrosphere has been largely kept at bay; water has been permitted to enter buildings almost exclusively for the sake of convenience (e.g., plumbing). Otherwise, its ability to bring destruction and decay has made it an unwelcome entity. However, recent awareness of freshwater’s growing global scarcity has inspired an alternative approach, inviting architects to incorporate hydrospheric processes within architecture in order to acknowledge and conserve what may be our most underappreciated natural resource.
The story continues in Hypernatural, which explores architecture’s new relationship with nature.