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Hydro-tecture: An Urban Metabolism

Part 2 Project 2010
Christopher Jennings-Petz
University for the Creative Arts | UK
“That which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it”

Hydro-tecture: researching the metabolism of water in the built environment.

Water is the universal solvent that links all natural and synthetic systems. The health of the hydrological sphere is paramount to continued expansion, health and quality of both the natural and urban environment.

As an architectural response to the South East of England's regional hydro-ecology and current development plans, Hydro-tecture aims to improve the hydrological health of the region by shaping the social metabolic experience of water as a resource.

An initial act was to imagine inserting the projected annual water use of 60,000,000 m3 into Ashford, Kent: confronting the populace with physical mass of their own consumption, whilst establishing a new datum supply and demand and it’s ecological affect.

The architectural response focused upon the generation of a series of ten deep reservoirs, formed along a central ribbon following a "grid" determined by Ashford’s typological, geographical and geological conditions. As a critical addition to the city's development plans, the reservoirs will supply cleansed river water to the domestic, commercial and agricultural sectors, dramatically reducing ground water abstraction and ultimately improve the health of the Great Stour River and its regional biodiversity.

Levels of supply and demand will alter the landscape and it's program. Reservoir boundaries, in places referencing Indian stepped wells, will seasonally fluctuate in program and physical quality, both capturing and perpetuating the flow of surface water. Facilities which ajoin each reservoir are as responsive as the landscape, functioning as part of a wider utility & recreational network.

The scheme described more than just the built infrastructure of a landscape urbanism. An important dimension of the project developed around an action research initiatives, culminating in a joint public exhibition. A growing mineral solution and clay process installation launched an initiative concerned with raising conscious of water usage - embodied and everyday.

Christopher Jennings-Petz

Hydrotecture and Urban Metabolism: The Timing of Space

Ashford, an old Kent industrial/market town on the Stour river complex, plans to double in size over the next two decades, with 30,000 new homes. However, although Ashford has recently plugged-in to international rail networks, the town has remained formless, indistinct, unconscious.

Research started with a mapping of the Ashford landscape as a metabolic entity, defined through demographic, infrastructural, economic, geological and urban flows. Forming what Bateson called "an ecology of mind", this allowed intriguing insights into socio-geographical processes. Work soon focused upon socio-geological water flows, and included a novel report into the embodied water of building production. Through his regional analysis, major weaknesses were found in the city's water planning. This issue defined the design strategy remit and project thesis.

The hydrological, agricultural and geological surveys revealed a band of clay and aquifer running below the city. In an ingenious move, Chris chose this as the (sub)site, and proposed to excavate a string of region/city-defining reservoirs passing through the urban centre, slowly filling to meet the expanding water requirement. The waterside edges create a series of new urban landscape conditions, transforming land values, and introduce a new metropolitan space, and metabolic relation, into the heart of Ashford.

A reservoir infrastructure was elaborated through a strong leisure programme, incorporating an ultra deep diving well, surface sports, a new ecological corridor with urban food production potential, and hundreds of floatation tanks. At the core of the scheme, the landscape both mounds, and drops to deep vertical wells, countering Ashford's dominant horizontality. This move transforms the topography of the city, and perhaps reconfigures the cognitive maps of the city, in the inhabitants' imagination.

Working across scales, strategic regional moves were paralleled with 1:1 material prototypes that crystallised a series of open-ended experiments involving salt solutions and clay castings of various kinds. Samples and apparatus accreted around Chris’ drawing board through the year, defining a metabolic aesthetic. His evolving installations animated the diploma studios, whilst the proposal staged a urban landscape infrastructure, as a new ecological domain of social experience.


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