absorptive architecture : a building is a pore

[ thesis, master of architecture | ucb 2011 ]

As water increasingly becomes a politicized commodity and our global water shortage becomes more dire, architecture must take steps to improve relations with this fundamental human resource.  In architecture, typical construction methods produce aquaphobic wall assemblies by necessity—with flashing, vapor barriers, shingles, tiles, and roof tar—to keep water out to prevent decay and preserve indoor air quality. We have thoroughly waterproofed our built environment.  The resultant mass runoff is a lost resource, a missed programmatic opportunity, and a detriment to ecosystems.

Real water issues are usually addressed by large-scale engineering solutions or small-scale landscape interventions, leaving architects out. But what if the materials were different?  What if our programmatic tolerances were different?  There could be a place for absorptive architecture. 

This thesis investigates water and architecture at four scales—through system, program, material, and site. Proximity to San Francisco’s combined sewer and water bodies reveals a system of priority sites for urban porosity. «Percent Soppiness» (conditions of wetness) distributes program calibrated to conditions of wetness. Vesicular basalt, a highly absorptive volcanic rock, is the material focus. Hydrologic typologies structure the site, which is a building, a drainage basin, and a filter for runoff.

Absorptive architecture produces sopping, thick buildings with water that is visible and accessible for multiple uses. People and things can get submerged. Rain and runoff are held up and derailed on their path to the combined sewer. Plants are irrigated. Filtered runoff recharges reserves of urban groundwater.  

Architecture can bring water back into the building.  The city should seep.  A building could be a pore.


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