Water is a main theme at Floating
University re-envisions an urban water infrastructure that invokes public participation.
How will life change as our relationship to water transforms?
A fundamental paradigm in our research at Floating
University is to emulate Mother Earth’s water cycles rather than mimic Corporate Man’s linear sewer pipes. Water will not fall beneath the streets like garbage into landfills. Rather, water flows down the drain, undergoes organic filtration, and flows back out the spout.
University is located in a polluted rainwater basin in urban Berlin. Experimental water systems are constructed at every possible avenue. Its public pedagogy: seminars, workshops, discussions, water filtration systems, water practices and performances, ruminate on our place in the water cycle.
Technology is only part of the answer to our challenges with water.
What’s missing is our relationship with water.
University, we have four different types of water on which to experiment: rainwater, basin water, greywater, and blackwater.
— RAINWATER —
Rainwater takes a 6 kilometer skydive. On its descent through the urban atmosphere it absorbs particulate pollution, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. This tainted rainwater spills off the roofs of the
University buildings and funnels through a collection system for reuse.
— BASINWATER —
Basinwater comes from rainwater that lands on the Tempelhof Airport building, airfield and Columbiadamm Road. Currently, this tonic of automobile oil, vulcanized rubber, cigarette chemicals, and trash drains into our large, open air basin where Floating
University ‘floats’ and then drops into the canal system and flows to the Spree River.
— GREYWATER —
Greywater is water that becomes “dirty” when it is used. There are various “shades” of greywater. For instance, greywater from our offshore kitchen is laden with grease, fat, and food particles, while greywater from bathroom hand washing is laced with E. coli bacteria.
— BLACKWATER —
Blackwater is the most delicious. Produced by toilet water’s interaction with human waste, blackwater is full of nutrients for plants as well as pathogens. It’s possible to use aerobic decomposition to turn blackwater into fertilizer and anaerobic digestion to create methane gas for cooking.
WATER FILTRATION SYSTEM
In 2018, we constructed a water filtration system in the basin. Experimental water systems were constructed at every possible avenue. Water cascades down the laboratory stairs and spirals through a series of biological filters. Then, the filtered water journeys to the
University kitchen, bathroom, auditorium, and greenhouse.
The filters are made out of plants, mushrooms, biofilms, sand, activated carbon, molluscs, and bacteria. They are located in a ‘spiral of bathtubs’, a ‘membrane filter’, and a ‘moving bed reactor’.
The ‘spiral of bathtubs’ consists of 9 bathtubs suspended from the ceiling of the Laboratory Tower. A ‘membrane filter’ turns rainwater into drinking water, and provides water for washing dishes in the Spülküche. A ‘moving bed reactor’ filters our dirty dishwashing water into water that is clean enough to irrigate our greenhouse, which grows 35 varieties of tomatoes from across Europe.
This system was deconstructed in 2018, as the project was initially envisioned only for one year. Good news, Floating
University continues. The permit to use the land has been extended for 5 years. Stay tuned for upcoming programming in 2020. (An archive of our programming in 2019 and 2018 also exists at the bottom of this page.)
WATER ON A DAMAGED PLANET
Walking around in rubber boots in the polluted water in the rainwater basin, while families of ducks swim by, a person might wonder if they find themselves in an image of future freshwater habitats. Where is the line crossed where the boots must go on? Will there be a future line crossed where we invent boots for the ducks? or the fox?
When people first began constructing cities on rivers, you could swim in the rivers and even drink them. Today, swimming in most urban waterways will probably make you sick. The rainwater basin may be both an image of the future and a reflection of the past. Floating
University is a place where people can come together to explore how we can continue to live in contemporary urban space.
– How will we adapt our practices to the rapidly changing cities and planet to keep water affordable and abundant?
– How might our participation in urban hydrology nudge society toward an ecological balance?
Cities as we know them are changing. So too are the planet and the climate. Water is a medium that in some ways is the embodiment of change. “Be water,” said Bruce Lee, “shapeless, formless…When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot.” Change is inevitable. Yet the rate of change this planet has begun to undergo is at a speed that the vast majority of species are not accustomed to. Disturbance is also integral to ecosystems: storms, fires, droughts. Yet, the level of disturbance occurring today is at a far greater frequency than pre-human times: mining, logging, roads, accidental fires, sewage overflows…It is inflicted with less care than by indigenous people in pre-colonial times. The majority of species that live on this planet are not adapted to this disturbance regime. Humans are a part of nature, but we have turned the volume up on disturbance to 11. Perhaps, now is time to be a little softer.
– How might we live, act, and design differently if we have a deeper relationship with water?
– How can we be radical dreamers of utopia while keeping our feet on the ground, or in the water, as it may be?
ARTIST IN RESIDENCE
Katherine Ball (Detroit, USA) is the ‘Water Filtration and Infiltration’ artist in residence. You can contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org. She welcomes your contamination.
BOOK: WATER LEXICON
The Water Runs Through Us: a lexicon of water practices at Floating University Berlin
This upcoming book documents the story of the water filtration system Floating
University during its inaugural year 2018. The manuscript flows through strategies and manuals, oral histories and infrastructures. The collaborative team assembling to create the book includes: Katherine Ball (content collection and writing), Ted Marino (writing), Benoît Verjat and Alexis de Raphelis (visual contributions), Felix Egle (design), Gilly Karjevsky (advising), dpr-barcelona (editing), Adocs (publishing).
Many people are engaged with water at Floating
University. A special thank to those instrumental in its design, construction, programming and care, including:
Benjamin Foerster-Baldenius, Florian Stirnemann, Erwin Nolde, Holger Sack, Jose Ordonez, Gilly Karjevsky, Rosario Talevi, Licia Soldavini, Benoît Verjat, Alexis de Raphelis, Teresa Huppertz, Sarah Bovelett, Lorenz Kuschnig, Naïm Benyahya, Jeanne Astrup-Chauvaux, Carla Kienz, Serena Abbondanza, Paula Malherbe, Naama Ityel, Vilmos, Laura Raber, Daniel Seiffert, Lea Kirsche, Marjetica Potrc, Angie Chen, Yan Yan, Florian Gwinner, Raumlabor Architects and associated fabricators.
WATER RITUALS AT CLIMATE CARE – 2019
In 2019, Floating’s main program was Climate Care, a two-week festival exploring climate change. The water portion of the program “Avulsions of Social Constructions” focused on developing a vision for (1) a future water filtration system at Floating
University, and (2) how Floating University could be a place for people to deepen their relationship with water. This included meetings with scientists and a day of water rituals. It was open research: workshop attendees participated in discussions with scientists, water rituals moving water in the body and being moved by water, and discussions to evolve the vision for a future series rituals and water practices at Floating University.
Water Workshop facilitators:
Jose Ordonez of Martin Membranes
Erwin Nolde and Holger Sack of Nolde & Partner Innovativ Wasserkonzept
Paula Malherbe (Ritual: moving water in the body)
Naama Ityel (Ritual: Moved by water – movement exploration practice that reconnects us with our liquid aspect)
Convened by Katherine Ball.
WASSERBAU – 2018
University‘s inaugural year of programing (2018) included the following water events:
WORKSHOP: Building and growing biological filters out of plants, fungi, sand, biofilms, molluscs, xylem, water vegetables and special effects.
11.05 – 13.05.2018
Convened by Katherine Ball (artist, Detroit)
WORKSHOP: Learn how to construct a decentralized wastewater sewage treatment plant that cleans water with a series of tanks filled with different bacteria.
Convened by Katherine Ball (artist, Detroit) and Erwin Nolde (water engineer, Berlin)
A DAY OF WATER RITUALS: How do we practise the art of living on a damaged planet?
Convened by Katherine Ball (artist, Detroit), Alexis de Raphelis (artist, Cosne-sur-Loire) and Benoît Verjat (research designer, Paris)
FLOATING SYMPOSIUM: Two days dedicated to the future of the rainwater basin and the Floating
08.09 – 09.09.2018