Designers Envision the Future of Water at A/D/O

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It’s 7:30 am on April 5, 2024. Yawning, I roll out of bed, grab a bar of soap, and step into the bathroom to wash my face as I do every morning—but when I twist the knob to turn on the tap, the familiar hum of running water is absent. There is only silence. The pipes are dry.

For Jane Withers, the London-based curator and writer who led Water Futures, design incubator A/D/O’s latest initiative, this dystopia may not be so fictional. It’s estimated that Great Britain could run out of water within the next twenty-five years (which is rather ironic, considering the entire country is surrounded by the sea). Withers’ Water Futures addresses twenty-first century concerns around water access, recycling, and the future of safe drinking water. The year-long program included talks, workshops, and culminates in an exhibition of projects from the Water Futures Design Challenge. Designers were given a broad prompt to conceptualize projects around the use and reuse of water, from education and access to the vital role water plays in our lives. Nine projects, including three grand-prize winners, are now on view at A/D/O in Brooklyn.

Courtesy of A/D/O.

Elegant glass objects, Waters, by Clara Schweers, considers water as both a “thing and event,” she says. Each vessel is filled with water that she has collected from around the world. Over time, the liquid will evaporate, discoloring the glass. Winner of the Objects and Materials category, Schweers’s designs emphasize water consciousness, asking the user to think more deliberately about water as a global, essential, and ephemeral resource.

Indus by Bio-ID, winner of the Systems and Infrastructure Category, is a site-specific solution to the need for clean water in India. The biodegradable tiles, created from locally sourced materials, are meant to be installed onto pre-existing architecture. Water is purified as it runs through the tiles’ grooves, which are treated with a seaweed-based, micro-algae hydrogel, providing an easily accessible, safe water source.

Courtesy of A/D/O.

Katherine Ball’s design-cum-performance, The Water Runs Through Us, celebrates the ritual of bathing and considers the cyclical nature of water. Her concept begins with taking filthy water from the Bushwick Inlet, filtering it through bacteria and other biological materials, and using the purified water to fill a bathtub in A/D/O where visitors are invited to wash. Winner of the Communication category, Ball’s design brings attention to the ways in which we connect with water physically and emotionally.

Courtesy of A/D/O.

Withers’s dire observation that “what used to be abstract is now tangible” certainly magnifies the fear of an imminent environmental catastrophe that will mark the beginning of the end for the Holocene. But Ball, in accepting her award, emphasized that the water crisis is not yet too far gone—if we can sanctify our relationship to water, we can save it and ourselves. “There’s hope!” she insists.

Water Futures is on view until April 25 at A/D/O in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.