The evolution of water lifestyle
The supply and distribution of water has defined architecture and city layouts since Roman times.
We are fortunate to have inherited the legacy of two fundamental Mediterranean civilisations: Roman and Arab. Not only did they leave their languages and customs, but they were both masters in construction and urban planning. They took a wise approach to water treatment in their mapping out cities, public spaces, homes and gardens. It is thanks to them that we know how important water is to hygiene, health and life, as well as knowing how to make the most of the precious little water there is in some regions.
This a discourse that may seem current, but is actually more than 5,000 years old. We are still amazed by the work of Romans today: excellent architects and engineers who built monumental aqueducts, pipework and sewerage systems, had heating, rainwater collection and thermal baths, and hot and cold water in public and private spaces.
Water as culture
Our cultures of hygiene, bathing rituals, gardening and orchards have been learned from the Arab world. Their water tanks, irrigation canals and lock systems with archaic forms of irrigation are still present today. “Whilst we may have made improvements to achieve maximum efficiency, and discovered new materials to be used since then, the fundamentals remain the same”, explains Miguel Flor, a designer at Noken, one of Spain’s leading firms in the research and design of bathroom elements.
Noken produces cutting-edge bathroom and kitchen elements from the hands of a number of designers and architects. “Water is a scarce asset that not everyone can enjoy, and for us it’s incredibly important that we make responsible use of this essential element. What’s more, because we’re well aware of the impact we can generate, our facilities are constantly evolving: introducing recyclable packaging, catalogues printed on recycled paper, commuter bicycles and wastewater purification plants that recycle water for new use, etc.”, the engineer lists.
Looking back on ancient times we find examples such as Herod, the reviled Hebrew king who went on to construct the most beautiful palaces in strategic locations such as Caesarea and Masada.
We admire the architectural techniques employed in Pompeii, Merida and Troy, as well as the thermal baths the Romans expanded as far as the limits of the Empire in Northern Europe. It was the Arabs who created the stunning and incredibly refined gardens in Medina Zahara (Córdoba) and the Generalife (Granada).
The Hieronymite monks took on these traditions in their monasteries, searching out water sources, springs or wells in the most remote of places. In turn, the Spanish people took this culture to America, founding missions at strategic locations where they found water, a well or a spring.
Christos Passas, associate director of Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA), one of the leading international studios in the research and development of sustainable infrastructure and materials, answers questions on the future of water from Lifestyle Magazine.
Q: What technologies are being implemented to increase the efficiency of water consumption?
Christos Passas: There are so many new technologies, including sensors that regulate excessive consumption, leak detection, recycling and reuse.
Q: And in terms of facilities?
CP: We’re trying to create self-sufficient buildings, especially in areas where infrastructures are expensive, but it’s somewhat essential in terms of lowering costs. For example, residential buildings can be more sustainable if they reach a certain size; and it’s the same in residential areas, where you can reach a ‘critical mass’ point because certain infrastructures are shared. Conversely, in public buildings and shopping centres, it’s mandatory to promote green technologies, as these are buildings with very high levels of consumption.
Q: Do you think we’ve made significant progress in our knowledge of water since Roman times, or are we still working under that same influence?
CP: I think that the basics of water distribution have been the same for centuries. Our era is characterised by a scientific approach to our use of water, in two different senses: quality (hygiene), and its use and preservation.
Q: Do you think society has an awareness of water consumption?
CP: Generally speaking we take the use and supply of fresh drinking water for granted, we tend to ignore the fact that it’s a scarce and valuable asset. It’s disappointing to see how many cubic metres of water are being constantly contaminated by plastic or chemical waste. This is why I think we need to raise awareness in this area.
Q: Do you think that construction is efficient, or do we need to look for other environmentally-friendly solutions?
CP: Some major projects are minimising and optimising water consumption. Others use recycled water filtration very effectively, and in others, grey water is used for subsequent needs. Being aware that water can be used several times over, and can be efficiently regenerated effectively is incredibly important. I particularly love the work Paris City Council has done to offer high quality drinking water in public on the streets – a fantastic step towards putting an end to plastic bottles. These projects are really inspiring. Similarly, in Tbilisi (Georgia), public fountains continue to offer the highest quality fresh water straight from the mountains.
Q: How would you prioritise the following: Save, collect, filter or recycle water?
CP: Recycle, filter, collect and save.