Architecture and water: Using its power in design

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Myrtia Fasouli - Maria Simakou, architects

The beneficial attributes of water in landscape architecture -The draining basins of Park Guell and of the city of Curitiba Examples and possibilities of utilizing rainwater in Greece

Water is absolutely essential for the life on earth. It constitutes the 70% of plants' and animals' body, while it covers the 2/3ds of the planet's surface. Its dynamics influence the environment, starting from the formation of the geophysical relief to the development of a city. Concerning its use, it is the basic reason of survival and good health; a moving source of force, it works as a microclimate regulator or even as a decorative element.
Its beneficial effects to the human organism are well known. Whenever, though, it escapes human control, the results are devastating for man and nature alike; in many cases, we have become witnesses of destructions caused by floods, while the tragedy of the tsunamis in Indonesia is recent.

The beneficial attributes of water in landscape architecture
Architecture -or to be more specific- landscape architecture is one of the applications, through which man attempts to develop the beneficial attributes of water. In these, water is -usually- presented in the form of springs or decorative lakes. These "compatible applications" are supplied through land drillings, or via the water system of each region. Apart from these, there are methods that develop and recycle the natural aquatic element, converting a park to an environmental and socially sustainable space;
The draining basins, for example, are a common application: artificial cavities in the soil aiming at withholding the rain water (pict.1). They cover a large surface (20.000 m² - maximum) and they can be up to 25m in depth. These are distinguished in two categories: the detention basins and the retention basins.
The detention basins retain large quantities of rain water for a short period of time. They gather the water through predetermined corridors - streams and then via a special exit in their lower department, they channel it in the soil or they store it in reservoirs. Since, they don't contain water in a permanent basis, they may be transformed in recreation parks (pict.2).

On the other hand, the retention basins retain water for a longer period; the water is not channeled, remaining in their interior. Their higher department is equipped with a backup passage, which works in case of overflow - an infrequent phenomenon. The retention of water contributes in the creation of hydrobiotopes, converting the landscape in idyllic scenery (pict.3).
Other methods of withholding water with relative function, in areas crossed by rivers for example, are the floods’ bypass and the artificial lakes; the latter are familiar in our country (see for example the Plastira Lake).

The draining basins of Park Guell and of the city of Curitiba
The aforementioned methods are commonly encountered around the world. Exceptional cases are Gaudi’s “Park Guell” in Barcelona (1900-1914) and the city of Curitiba in Brazil (1968). The “Park Guell” is renowned for its art nouveau architecture. What is not widely known, is that it forms a giant “hydraulic system” of water control, aiming at: the limitation of soil erosion, the catering of vegetation and its storage for general use. The architect separated the area in three departments and formed routes, which would function both as water collectors and recreation areas. He, then, applied the techniques of detention basins, separately for each department, which succeed in slowing down the flow of water and channeling it in reservoirs (pict.4,5,6).

Curitiba’s case is different. It is a city surrounded by mountains, characterized by intense rainfalls, which increase the danger of floods. According to the plan that was realised in 1968 by the team of the architect Jaime Lerner, the regions that presented the highest rate of water in stock, were transformed in parks. There the rain water is led by predetermined routes – streams in detention basins. The percentage of rainfalls in the region allows the continuous presence of water in the lakes and accordingly their transformation in hydrobiotopes (pict.7).

Examples and possibilities of utilizing rainwater in Greece
In Greece, due to the sparse but intense rainfalls, the application of similar practices could provide protection from the floods and strengthen considerably the quantity of water resources. Unfortunately, the examples are few, when the creation of draining basins in cities is considered essential in order to prevent possible floods.
An excellent example of such a park is at Ilion, Attica. It is called “Antonis Tritsis Park” or the “Queen's Tower Park”. This 1000-acre-park is part of the large property, which belonged to the royal family between the years of 1848-1861. The hydro-geological study that preceded its construction, appoints it unique. From the beginning, the aim was the use and the presentation of alternative and renewable forms of energy, including the utilizing of rainwater. In the first phase of the program's establishment, a number of lakes and channels were constructed functioning as detention tank-basins, collecting and accumulating rainwater for field irrigation and animal use.
The tanks are able to retain large quantities of water. Thus, the retained water contributes on the one hand, to the better conditions of everyday life and on the other, to the maintenance of an important hydrobiotope, that accommodates water plants, fishes, and amphibious animals but also some rare species of birds (pict.8). It is disheartening that the park is the sole example in Attica and perhaps in Greece (regretfully, semi-finished, as the 2nd phase hasn't been completed yet).

However, our country possesses some "compatible" areas, where such methods could be applied: the (abandoned) quarries. These are already existing "basins" because of their shape, and are mostly used for cultural purposes, converted mainly to theatres; without though being examined for rainwater collection schemes as, for example, in the study for the “Melleville” quarries in France.

In the developed societies, nowadays, the water is offered immediately and abundantly, so there is a limited interest in its origin and its fate after use. It is obvious that the lack of education in environmental issues, has led to the imbalance between human needs and respect for nature, phenomenon particularly observed in Greece, comparatively to other European countries.

Our country, as it was mentioned above, has various possibilities of utilizing rainwater. However, negative phenomena are observed, as constructions building on streambeds, the burning down of forests and their boundaries violations, while at the same time, the few unoccupied spaces in the cities remain unexploited and inaccessible, shaped with techniques and materials hostile to the environment. This situation leads to a great number of floods every year.
This year, the extended drought manidested our lack in “water-collecting techniques” and it is almost certain that the negative consequences of the destruction of thousands acres of forest by the fires will take its toll even on a small rainfall.

Nevertheless, it is also definite, that Greece possesses a skilled dynamic of architects, landscape designers, engineers and generally an informed, creative and interested pool of staff to deal with the requirements aforementioned. The main problem is that the state does not take advantage of these precious "resources". According to the architect Dimitris Phillipidis “Always the actions behind the scenes, were and still are so powerful, especially up in the hierarchy that there is no warranty for the application of the study, even if an architect maintains the assignment until the very end”.


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