Monday, June 10, 2013

Water Treatment Plant

Water Treatment Plant in Évry, France, by AWP, 2013

Over ten years ago AWP won a competition for the enlargement of Évry's water purification plant, located on the edge of the Seine River and near the Francilienne expressway. AWP's focus consists of, per partner Matthias Armengaud, "an urban canvas (opening on the Seine), landscape (educational filtration park with six themed gardens), and architectural densification and organization." Part of the latter involves the construction and renovation of four buildings that are featured here, each one tied to the other three through a language of wood screens, or as AWP puts it, "urban scale filters."

Per the architects, "The urban dimension of the equipment has guided us towards a strategy of opening-up and hospitality. Regularly open to visitors, this equipment will become a landmark and a thematic park on the theme of water filtering." This tactic of opening up what was previous hidden usually occurs after the useful life of a piece of infrastructure; think of Park Duisburg Nord and other post-industrial sites that retain some of their form and history even as they are transformed into places of leisure and recreation. But to create a display and experience from the workings of a filtration plant strategically elevates the issue of water (the resource that many think will define 21st-century wars) at a time when its use must be cosidered.

The layering of wood screens over concrete structures accomplishes a few things: it softens the architecture of the plant, it signals the pieces of the plant that are open to the public, and it creates an architectural dialogue across the plant that enriches the place. Each of the four buildings could have strove to create its own identity at the plant ("I clean effluent!", or whatever the case may be), but the shared architectural expression prioritizes the relationships between buildings over any individual attributes.

Évry and AWP are not alone in opening up their doors to the public and using architectural design as a means to improve the infrastructure's presence within the cityscape. Closer to my home is the Newton Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, a 25-year project that Ennead Architects is overseeing. The project revitalizes the plant in the increasingly popular Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, while also creating a visitor center and art/public spaces along the namesake creek that divides Brooklyn from Queens. Water is the link between these projects, and the world will probably see many more projects of the same ilk, as outdated infrastructure needs improving and the use of reuse of water becomes paramount.

Photos: © AWP, Anna Positano