Councils and developers need to consider the "suburb" as a giant piece of water collection infrastructure; a collective system for water management argues Matthew Delroy-Carr, sessional academic at the Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Visual Arts.
Based on the design of a typical dwelling, the average suburban household has the ability to collect at least half its annual water consumption through rainwater harvesting. If we were to address rainwater harvesting over an entire suburban street, for example, there is the possibility of looking at the collective roof area of all households, back and front yard and street surface areas.
While solutions to sanitation and water treatment need to be resolved, this suggests a feasible way of looking at large-scale water collection for a small community. Water is arguably one of the most precious and widely available resources within society, so why, given the advancements in technological capabilities, are we not utilising this commodity to its full extent in Perth, which is facing a future Water crisis? From the Swan River north to Gingin Brook, an area known as the Gnangara Mound is largely sustained by the underlying superficial aquifer which is becoming depleted at an increasingly rapid rate through over-extraction. However, given Perth's substantial average annual rainfall, we ask whether there is really a shortage of water or rather inadequate water harvesting? The first place to look is surface water run-off-a substantial amount of which is lost as stormwater discharge to sewers, waterways and the ocean.
We need to explore new means of water collection methods before we look to tap further into the already depleted aquifer systems. With urban sprawl guaranteed to continue through 2050, the suburbs ultimately provide a good starting point to address water collection possibilities. The huge areas of hard surfaces built over the suburbs provide the most appropriate method for collecting and channelling rainfall run-off. If this idea were to be multiplied over the entire suburban area, the collective possibility for rainwater harvesting would be enormous. This is not a new idea by any means. African towns have been using rainwater harvesting techniques through typical residential areas for centuries, we just need to try and change our thinking about what a suburb could be to adapt it to our contemporary western society: Probably the most powerful tool to aid water sustainability is creating public awareness of the value of the resource, and possible solutions. Through design, water can become more than just a necessity, but an element of the public realm.
Through architecture and built form, the ephemeral nature of this resource can be brought to light as a public spectacle, helping to create an awareness of its value through various urban insertions. The problem needs to be dealt with collaboratively-through a designed integration of the ecology of the Gnangara Mound with the built environment. Architecture and urban design is imperative in the development of sustainable water usage. Large-scale water collection parklands and water sculptures within suburban areas can be incorporated into new forms of future sustainable urban design. The outcome of this change in approach to suburban development could ultimately result in the replenishment of latent wetland ecosystems. The "suburb" could potentially be thought of, not as a vast sandpit to be built on, but rather a natural ecological system sustained through new water management strategies.
Written by Matthew Delroy-Carr (Architecture sessional academic) and edited by Nigel Westbrook (Associate Professor in Architecture). Delroy-Carr's work was supervised by Assistant Professor Rene Van Meeuwen.
Associate Professor Nigel Westbrook | +61 (0)8 6488 2592