Biophilic design: connecting cities to the water cycle

in Biophilic Cities

Water is a precious resource that plays a crucial role in our daily lives. Yet we sometimes fail to recognize just how valuable it is, somehow taking it for granted.

How can biophilic design help with that?

water in a biophilic city

Reconnecting people with nature is a goal that encompasses natural features – such as textures and the elements – as well as the processes that rule the natural world.

The water cycle is one of them, and a biophilic city can choose to bring people closer to it.
Let’s then review a few biophilic solutions that make the water cycle enjoyable and more evident to city dwellers.

a comprehensive water system

Currently, urban water necessities are mainly satisfied with one water type: drinking water. This is the most precious water and it’s becoming less abundant. Aside from efficiency, saving drinking water will be increasingly important going forward. This means that other water types need to be factored into the equation.

Groundwater, rainwater, used water, and drinking water can all become part of a comprehensive water system that employs the right type of water for the right use, makes sure to reuse what can be reused, and returns the rest to the environment.
To make a few examples, gray water can be made suitable for toilet flushing and laundry. Rainwater can be collected and used to water plants or purified into drinking water. And black water can be turned into compost and fertilizers.

Circular water systems of this kind are already being developed (such as Semilla Sanitation (opened in a new window/tab)) and implemented in sustainability-centered urban districts (such as Brainport Smart District (opened in a new window/tab) - Netherlands), but they should become the norm in a near future.

View of the Brainport Smart District in a rainy day.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Brainport Smart District (opened in a new window/tab)
Close-up of urban farms in Brainport Smart District.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Brainport Smart District (opened in a new window/tab)

designing with the water cycle

One of the reasons why city dwellers are so disconnected from the water cycle is that all water treatment happens in hidden places and all is left to see is clean water out of the tap. Add that exposure to water has positive effects on wellbeing and the solution becomes clear: designing water features that connect with the water cycle!

Let’s take rainwater.
Aquatecture (opened in a new window/tab) is an example of a beautiful harvesting system. Its shape recalls water drops and the metal surface creates interesting reflections. Water can then be used for irrigation, toilet flushing or laundry and – duly treated – it could even become potable.

Thin and discrete, this system can be installed on building façades or as a freestanding element. And its beautiful look opens to a wealth of design solutions that integrate rainwater collection in urban design.

Close-up of an Aquatecture panel.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Studio Sway (opened in a new window/tab)
Building façade with Aquatecture panel.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Studio Sway (opened in a new window/tab)

 
Climate Tile (opened in a new window/tab) is an urban paving solution that collects rainwater from roofs and sidewalks, preventing overload damages in the event of heavy rains. Rainwater is used to feed the green patches nearby and the rest just seeps through the soil, restoring the natural water circle.

This system elegantly merges sustainability and biophilic design. It addresses the necessity of making urban areas more resilient to extreme weather while crafting engaging public areas for those who live in the city.

Urban sideway with Climate Tile paving.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Tredje Natur (opened in a new window/tab)
Close-up Climate Tile tiles.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Tredje Natur (opened in a new window/tab)

A whole water processing system can also become a biophilic design feature.
At Sidwell Friends School (opened in a new window/tab), rainwater and wastewater are treated in a constructed wetland that enriches the campus with a beautiful water feature students can interact with, learning about the water cycle. What a brilliant way of blending biophilic design with environmental stewardship!

View of the campus with a terraced contructed wetland.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Andropogon (opened in a new window/tab)
Close-up of the wetland.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Andropogon (opened in a new window/tab)

 
 
Successful biophilic strategies promote efficient use of natural resources while giving people more occasions to experience nature and get exposed to its mechanisms. In urban environments, this translates into truly biophilic cities that foster connection and respect towards the natural world. Wouldn’t this be a good model for future cities?

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