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Water, water, everywhere

Posted by: Helen Walters on August 9, 2007


Digital water isn’t a new concept, but this new project, due for completion in June 2008, pushes the limits of what is possible — and uses the technology on a grand scale. The Digital Water Pavilion will be located at the entrance to Expo Zaragoza in Spain, slap bang in front of a bridge designed by Zaha Hadid. Housing a cafe and an information booth, all four external walls are made from falling water. The fall of the water can be timed to the drop — and so programmed to spell out words or project pictures (think of each drop as a pixel). Sensors can turn the water off so someone can walk into the building at any point along the wall — and then turn it back on again once they’re safely inside.

Check out the video below. More info and explanation from Matteo Lai of Turin, Italy-based architectural firm, carlorattiassociati, after the jump.

(Image credit:
carlorattiassociati - Walter Nicolino and Carlo Ratti with Carlo Bonicco)

Apart from acknowledging that it's "pretty tricky, actually", Lai didn't go into detail about exactly what technology is necessary to control the water flow to visually interesting effect, but it sure does need to be precise. Visitors might well lose their joie d'expo after an unexpected shower when simply trying to get a cup of tea at the cafe. But in a way, its principle seems relatively old-fashioned: it's pure binary, with each drop or non-drop of water acting as a 1 or a 0. That code is then programmed, on a line by line basis, to "project" words or pictures that appear while the wall in effect scrolls downwards.

One of the curious things the architects are forced to consider when trying to integrate this technology into the brick-and-mortar functionality of their building, is how high resolution their water walls need to be. In other words, how many valves need to be placed along the roofline so that any projected words or images will actually look like anything at all? The more the better, obviously, but the $3 million budget is already looking tight. Lai and co (this is a joint venture between carlorattiassociati, Arup, Agence Ter and a class from MIT) are currently hoping that 24 nozzles per meter will suffice. And for those rightly concerned about the potential for waste, Lai assures that all the water (purified so as not to block the nozzles) is perpetually recycled throughout the installation.

If they pull it off, this could prove a big draw for Zaragoza, a rather small area in Aragon, Spain. Not, perhaps, on the scale of Diller + Scofidio's extraordinary Blur Building from 2002, but it's pretty daring. And if they can work out a way to let visitors customize the code to see their own writing on the walls? Come on. That'd be pretty cool.



What comes next? The Bloomberg Businessweek Innovation and Design blog chronicles new tools for creativity and collaboration, innovation case studies in both the corporate and social sectors, and the new ideas that have the power to change the way things have always been done.

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