Melbourne Water were very prominent this festival, and their efforts were a personal highlight for me. Considering we're in the throes of a prolonged dry period, Melbourne Water have begun changing people's relationship to water for a few years now. The free shower meters given out a few years ago were a novel way of making me aware of my showering habits, and I try to keep it within the four minute mark. The blue sand also works well to convey the idea of water - a somewhat finite resource - running out.
But changing individual habits is one thing, awareness is another. The public water meter on Punt Rd that shows Melbourne's water levels is one such example (and a brilliant one at that). Considering Punt Rd is the nightmare that it is, it seems a perfect place to get us to notice our water levels. Every time we drive past it, I can't help craning my neck to see what pathetically low level we're at. The prominence of the sign gives us collective knowledge of our fluctuating levels, ensuring that everyone who drives through that bottleneck has some sense of awareness.
To reflect the growing nuance and understanding needed to comprehend and act on our collective and individual water habits, more sophistication is needed. The Creating Liveable Cities exhibition highlighted many different possibilities, seeking to fine tune the details of our collective water use.
Flowing Data by Oom Creative illustrated the need for a deeper understanding of our water cycle, moving beyond the daily water updates to show a ten year period. Situated in the dead space of City Square, it's prominence on Swanston St allowed those passing by to inspect and understand the cycles of wet and dry. I'd had a hunch from memory that rainy periods weren't at a consistent time of the year, with some periods of rain happening heavily throughout spring, while other years had a more traditional wintery season. Looking at the somewhat irregular cycles years of hunch's were proved to be true. Looking at the horrible years of 2006-9 reminded me of watching the water levels go down every time I went through Punt Rd. At the exhibition there was a splendid animated version, providing another way of looking at the data. I've been waiting for a video of it to go online, but no such luck yet.
The centrepiece of the exhibition was Fortune 500 by Room 11. Using an umbrella/cloud metaphor it provided quiet contemplation: standing inside it shielded most of the ambient sounds from inside and outside the gallery. Each test tube was filled with water and a small slip of paper containing future prognostications about local and global water use. These are from the three we took:
Year 2015 - A nationwide water network, mapping and predicting water use across Australia is made available to the public online
Year 2015 - Sensor networks are installed in catchments, infrastructure and homes to monitor nationwide water use and the health of river systems
Year 2025 - The Yarra river becomes a precedent for environmental success after measures are taken to make the river fit for recreational use. Punt Road silos are converted to water purification vessels.
The last one I could find was 2150, involving China mining the moons of Jupiter for water. I could have stayed inside there for much longer, each future forecast was worthy of its own novel or nifty bit of design fiction.
Green Grid by i-n-d-j looked at water practices around the world through various plans that are either in the pipes or have already been constructed. I'm a sucker for rhino constructed plywood modular constructions and this whole corner was a doozy of a fluid shape. Unfortunately, that very structure made it hard to read the wall panels, which were rather interesting once I got home and looked them up.
Hidden Water from Buro North proved once again that this is one of Melbourne's greater design firms, producing consistently good work. Looking at the 'spatial relationship we have with water footprints' each example showed horrific statistics for how much water is needed to grow the most ordinary food stuffs. Along with the three dimensional representations of water usage each example had a further breakdown of global and local water uses. Some rather alarming stuff here: Victoria's 155 litre per person per day target of water use (which we've been accomplishing quite easily) doesn't take into account the huge amounts needed to feed ourselves.
This exhibit reminded me of the Virtual Water Project poster and app I found on Ministry of Type the other week. I picked up the app straight away; it's good to see the medium being used for interactive pieces that broaden our understanding of hidden systems.
I also found these two rather nifty videos while trawling through the Melbourne Water website. Some rather charming yet typical infographic videos explaining the problem we're in. I was hoping to find a 'Wally with water' video to finish this post, but I found nothing. Which is rather odd when you think about it.
Update: These videos have been taken off youtube for some reason. I smell a conspiracy here. Shame, they were rather nifty.
Colophon: The photos of Hidden Water were kindly supplied by Shane Loorham form Buro North. The photos of Green Grid and Fortune 500 were taken by Tobias Titz.