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Holistic Water Management in Building Design

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Perspectives, Research Published on

Author

Director of Sustainability

Water, our most precious natural resource is alarmingly scarce. With global warming on the rise causing an onslaught of drought, sporadic rainfall, and extreme weather conditions coupled with inefficiencies in the built environment, our water supply is dwindling. Much of the problem is due to human behavior and ineffective design: sites with poor drainage systems, outdated plumbing systems and appliances, and poor planning and operations, not to mention the lack of awareness and education that leads to unnecessary overuse and waste.

Consider these statistics:

  • Up to 40 billion gallons of water are used every day in the US.1
  • Up to 40% of our daily water is wasted due to leakage and overuse.3
  • Projections for 2050 indicate water usage will increase by 20-50% due to population growth, urbanization, and building usage. 4

At Corgan, we apply a systems-thinking approach to water management and strive to design efficiencies in the built environment and urban community. With climate change on the rise resulting in unprecedented weather events, we’re moving beyond water conservation and embracing a holistic approach to building typologies that include stormwater management, efficient water use and water reuse, and AI technology. This means understanding rainfall trends, climate-induced events, and usage patterns to design water retention and detention systems and assessing the feasibility of grey or black water reuse systems. Such an approach can help us better manage water in times of both drier periods and sudden cloud bursts and inform innovative solutions to capture and retain water.

Our goal is to move beyond an approach of simply “using less” to create buildings that “do more.”

 

Stormwater Management

Climate risk assessment on project sites helps in determining design criteria for stormwater management systems. It’s worth noting that architectural firms can play a vital role in maximizing the amount of rainwater catchment – especially in drier climates. All exterior surfaces including roof and vertical walls can be sculpted to detain, direct, and capture rainwater. Of course, green and blue roof systems can further control the flow of stormwater. Beyond buildings, where possible, we maximize permeable surfaces to allow for the water to percolate and replenish groundwater and explore multi-use spaces that function as water detention systems in the event of a storm event. Sponge cities and parks in the public realm can help absorb, retain, and detain large quantities of stormwater as well.

Reduced Water Consumption

With the end goal of reducing potable water use, various project typologies will integrate bespoke strategies and application of materials, systems, and equipment to achieve its prescribed goals. In aviation projects, for example, the maximum water use is in public bathroom facilities. For these projects, the preferred strategy is to collect and reuse rainwater for flushing. We also may consider greywater recycling systems for the facility. In an airport, sensors in plumbing lines combined with AI algorithms can help predict and detect leaks and other failures.

Case studies

Let’s look at a few building projects where we’ve prioritized water management in planning and design for more efficient water management.

A grassy roof
Learn more about AI and sustainable design at AI in Indoor Water Conservation.
AI and the Future of Water Conservation

Integrating artificial intelligence (AI) in building water systems has the potential to greatly reduce water consumption and efficiency of usage. AI, of course, is as useful as the quality and quantity of its data. While it requires an upfront investment in sensors and meters at various junctions of water flow through the building, once collected such data can be of immense value, especially when used with AI algorithms. Once the flow patterns are registered, these algorithms can easily detect a discrepancy from trends it has already recorded and can immediately send signals to a building management system. Such real-time detection and prediction of leaks and failures can potentially save enormous amounts of water.

As climate change impacts our weather patterns and causes unpredictable scenarios, along with the decline of this valuable resource around the world, perhaps we can better manage the flow of water through our built environments by applying a system-thinking approach to sustainable architecture and design combined with applicable technologies and raising our awareness for mankind.

Sources

  1. Environmental Protection Agency. (2022, August 29). “Data and Information Used by WaterSense.” EPA.
  2. Antunes, L. N., Thives, L. P., & Ghisi, E. (2016). Potential for potable water savings in buildings by using stormwater harvested from porous pavements. Water, 8(4). 110.
  3. Environmental Protection Agency. (2022, August 29). “Data and Information Used by WaterSense.” EPA.
  4. National Intelligence Council. (2021, November 18,). “Water Insecurity Threatening Global Economic Growth, Political Stability.” Water Insecurity Threatening Global Economic Growth, Political Stability. Retrieved February 2, 2023.
  5. Environmental Protection Agency. (2022, August 29). “Data and Information Used by WaterSense.” EPA.

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