It’s All About Water

The way Chicago and Quebec City are connected is all about the 2000 mile Great Lakes watershed. 80% of North America’s surface water is here. Yet we still don’t look at this as a resource, but mostly a way to move waste away from Cities.
Phil Enquist, an architect and partner at SOM, presented a keynote last Friday at the Canadian Institute of Planners conference in Quebec City. He showed us some of the work he and his firm have done on the Great Lakes basin. He titled the project “Great Cities, Great Lakes, Great Basin.” I’ve captured some of his talk here.

The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Initiative is an organization of mayors along this watershed. 

At the Chicago Architectural Foundation, an exhibit raises awareness of what the Great Lakes Watershed is, and what can be and is being done to protect their s resource. Questions asked include “What can basin cities learn from each other?”
Drought is a major issue for the US. Great lake levels will probably be reduced in coming years due to increased evaporation as the earth warms. 

Phil Enquist’s project on exhibit at the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Photo from SOM.
Other challenges for the region include shrinking cities and the prevalence of non-renewable energy use (coal) that is adding Mercury to the lakes. 
The project has been renamed “The Great Basin Century” in recognition that it’s about more than just the lakes. 

Can we see this region as composed of “innovation belts” both past and future? A great example is south Chicago’s Theaster Gates. 

Can we look at connecting this region with high speed rail? The potential exists to connect the entire east coast and Great Lakes Basin in this way. 

Copenhagen puts 4% of its waste in a landfill. Chicago today puts 90%. We can do better. 

Growing food better is key to cleaning up our water. Recent algae blooms have been the result of not so careful agricultural practices. Here too we can do better.

The Brookings Institution has studied the economic benefit of environmental clean up of the Great Lakes. Essentially the pay off would be double the investment cost.

The Calumet watershed is a case study undertaken as part of the Great Basin project. Roughly the size of the San Francisco Bay Area, this is a lakefront area with really no vision. The first step is to regain the lake front. Next, protect green space. Thirdly create innovation hubs. 

The second case study Phil has undertaken is Detroit. Together with a French Landscape architect, they’re studying turning Detroit’s public lands into wetlands that help clean the city’s water before it goes into the river.

Phil asked the planners in the room to be brave with their proposals. Think in a utopian way, even when clear financing strategies aren’t yet known. He says we need the US and Canada to work together in new ways. 

Sinkholes Cause Worry at Korean Highrise Construction Site

Development related sinkholes are becoming more prevalent and concerns have now been raised at the site of what is to be the tallest building on the Korean Peninsula, the Lotte World Tower, that water levels around the project may have been impacted by construction.

The appearance of small sinkholes near the site and the realization that the nearby lake seems to be shrinking are poorly timed as the tower is partially complete.

The tower, designed by US architects KPF, is now on hold pending the results of an investigation into safety and environmental issues at the site. If it is completed by its 2016 target the building would rise to 555 m making it the world’s 6th tallest structure. According to design commentators DeZeen, the buildings tapered geometry is intended to reference Korean artistry. The project is seeking LEED Gold accreditation.


Contemporary Bathrooms Need A Rethink

As part of a series the Guardian UK is doing called Live Better: Saving Water, Lloyd Alter offers an eye opening review of the history of indoor plumbing and highlights some ways in which bathroom design could use an update both in terms of the way these rooms are typically designed today and the enormous quantities of water and energy that are consumed by today’s plumbing conveniences.

Also take a listen to this related podcast by the editor of this blog and Howard Decker, former chief curator of the National Building Museum on the broader water scarcity issues that challenge today’s cities.