Residential water pipes are often overlooked as a key component of urban infrastructure, with the ongoing Flint water crisis serving as perhaps the most egregious example. One major factor is that cities have been notoriously slow to develop and implement new technology to replace their aging pipe systems. Another, according to a new project by two Carnegie Mellon students, is that these pipes remain hidden from view.
In a project named the “Most Innovative” by the Flux Emerging Architects Design Competition, students Sophie Nahrmann and Sinan Goral set out to “reverse-engineer” typical building infrastructure. To accomplish this, the pair designed an ecologically friendly boarding school, aptly named the “Ecoschool,” which features pipes on the outside of the buildings as a stark visual reminder of their critical role in urban development. More specifically, the design might prompt urbanites to think concertedly about how much energy and natural resources they are consuming on a daily basis.
“We wanted to create beautiful and austere environments, but at the same time promote honesty through the pipe networks to show that these systems … can be made beautiful,”Goral tells CityLab. Of course, the Echoschool’s design is also functional: The pipes offer an extensive on-site wastewater-processing system. Water from the pipes can also be used to grow plants indoors, as shown in the rendering below.
”With Ecoschool, Sophie and Sinan encourage building occupants, and the architecture industry in general, to think more deeply about wastewater,” Flux co-founder Jen Carlile says in an email. But Nahrmann also tells CityLab that their focus is on “creating a complete network of wastewater processing that integrates itself with the landscape. It’s not just about the pipes, but how they touch the ground and become public space.”
Both Nahrmann and Goral maintain that the Ecoschool is more than just theoretical architecture. In fact, their model is designed to be located in Pittsburgh’s Strip District, a neighborhood just outside the central business district that has seen a push for affordable housing. Because the Strip District is interspersed with both commercial real estate and quaint local restaurants and vendors, Goral finds that it’s still “searching for an identity.”
“From an architectural standpoint, there’s something lacking,” he says. The Ecoschool’s design would help to solve this problem by linking the local community to the more modern, metallic architecture that has infiltrated the district in recent years.
When designing, Nahrmann and Goral also considered the fact that Pittsburgh suffers from river pollution due to overflows from its outdated sewer system. By processing wastewater on site, the Ecoschool could help prevent some of this pollution.
While their project did not tackle the subject of affordability, Nahrmann and Goral intend for their design to be adaptable to many different structures and locations. Still, they recognize its limitations. “By no means do we want to say that our project is a way to solve a crisis like the one that occurred in Flint,” Goral says. “But, oftentimes, to be able to catalyze change, something drastic needs to happen.”