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In collaboration with SPACE10 and the Water for Impact team at Delft University of Technology. As part of the Exploring Resilient Water Futures Residency.



Pipe Anatomy

What if water pipes could mimic nature’s self-sustaining systems and respond to the dynamic environment of the city?

 

London’s once-revolutionary water supply system is now outdated in its rigidity and inability to move with the city. The Victorian-era infrastructure was built to serve a population of four million — not today’s 8.7 million, or the additional two million expected by 2050. The old pipes buckle and break with ground movement and pressure, while seasonal temperature changes expand and compress joints, causing them to burst. 

During our research, Elissa Brunato and Christoph Dichmann learned that one-quarter of water leaks from the crumbling infrastructure before it even reaches people’s homes.

Each week, on average 1,300 pipes are repaired — a costly process that involves manually locating leaks and digging up the roads. Around 600 million litres of drinkable water is lost per day — that’s enough to meet the needs of 20 million people.

Rather than thinking about pipes as static 3D objects, we are suggesting the use of intelligent materials that can respond and react to the surrounding environmental pressures over time.

 


 


 

We envision pipes whose design embeds the fourth dimension — time — to counteract deterioration and allow pipes to better cope with the dynamic environment of the city. When we consider time, we require new materiality. So we’ve visually explored what this might look like — to prompt a mindset shift, and challenge engineers and construction experts to rethink the properties of pipes.

‘Water losses through leakage are a huge problem,’ Dr van Halem agrees. ‘The organic, flexible pipe network inspires us to re-think the rigid and conventional water distribution network we rely on today.’