The Tree of Learning

An architecture students reflects on the creative power of water

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It could be said that water is man’s best friend. I can’t remember the first time I felt the proximity of water, but it has always been there: drinking a glass of water, having a shower, swimming in the sea, days spent by the river, and during the science class. Water and humans are inseparable, and it is present on every level in all aspects of our lives. But perhaps most interesting and surprising is its power to stimulate our minds and creativity. I’m an architecture student, and these are my thoughts on the drops of learning that have shaped my academic career.

FORM

My first drops of knowledge were fed by the understanding of form. We all know that water doesn’t have a fixed shape but, if, say, we put it in a teapot, it mirrors its form. So a void takes on importance, becoming full in form. Playing with water, we can experiment with designing from a void. When we contemplate the sea depths, we see that the movement of the tides draws rhythmic, curved lines in the sand. Water is a sculpting tool, which shapes landscapes. Long periods of erosion create fascinating forms, such as the beach of Las Cathedrals in Galicia, and the Montserrat massif in Catalonia.

Natural water architecture. Montserrat mountains eroded by water
Montserrat, Catalonia, Spain

TECHNIQUE

Nourished by water, the tree of learning grows. They say that water is life, and architecture consists of creating visible places. Vernacular architecture gives us clues about how people live, and a constant feature is the fountain. Present in homes in hot, dry climates, it humidifies the atmosphere, refreshes and gives comfort. On the topic of technique, it’s important to mention thermal inertia. Water has four times the thermal storage capacity of concrete. In this sense, a wall of water is similar to a Trombe wall if it is heated and cooled very slowly. A covered pond behaves in the same way as a wall of water, capturing the solar energy accumulated by the warmth of the sun, which it then slowly emits to the surrounding space.

Falling Water by Frank Lloyd Wright. Example of water architecture
Falling Water de Frank Lloyd Wright

REFERENCES

I have been flooded with architectural references since I began my studies, and many are related to water.

My first history classes gave me a lot to think about. Maybe it was the Baths of Caracalla (Rome) that made me realize the antiquity and permanence of water in architecture, as well as its relationship to wellbeing. These are recalled in contemporary projects such as the Therme Vals by Peter Zumthor, which has the essence a public bath. And other iconic projects such as Falling Water by Frank Lloyd Wright, the Villa Le Lac de Le Corbusier, or the Muuratsalo House by Alvar Aalto are all are located close to water. The sensorial element of water is one of its most alluring characteristics. The work of Carlo Scarpa and Luis Barragán is marked by the domestication of water, and aims to emphasise the sensuality of the work. And lastly, I would like to cite a local, more everyday reference: the Jardines de la Torre de les Aigües in Barcelona, a public wading pool at the base of a disused water tower. It shows us that water in a public space has the incredible power to generate social cohesion and urbanity.

The tree of learning grows, fed by water, and we must cherish each drop. We see that each drop, as small as it is, is essential to gaining a deeper knowledge of architecture and the human habitat.