Pavilion Made of 'Digital Water' Merges Science and Technology

USING water as an art medium certainly isn’t new. But in a digital water pavilion opening next year in Spain, visitors can experience the latest technology involving water manipulation by venturing within the exhibit’s water walls.

The pavilion, designed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) architects and engineers, will be part of Expo Zaragoza 2008, an international exhibition that opens June 14. The expo’s theme is “Water and Sustainable Development,” focusing in part on water as a unique resource, water for life, waterscapes, and shared water.

Designers of the digital water pavilion (DWP) describe it as a “building made of water” that “features liquid curtains for walls.” The water “curtains” can be programmed to display images or messages and also can sense an approaching person and open a doorway to let that person enter without getting drenched.

The interactive structure made of digitally controlled water curtains will contain an exhibition area, tourist information center, and café. The water walls that make up the structure consist of a row of closely spaced solenoid valves along a pipe suspended in the air. The valves can be opened and closed, at high frequency, via computer control. This produces a curtain of falling water with gaps at specified locations— like a pattern of pixels created from air and water instead of illuminated points on a screen. The surface becomes a one-bit-deep digital display that continuously scrolls downward.

All the walls of the pavilion will be made of digital water, as will vertical partitions on the edge of the roof and inside it. The pavilion roof, covered by a thin layer of water, will be supported by large pistons and can move up and down. When the pavilion is closed, the roof will collapse to the ground.

“The DWP is the first attempt to use water walls on the architectural scale. Moreover, in the DWP water walls are not used merely as a decoration. In fact, they are a key element in the creation of changeable spaces and they act as a medium of communication,” said Matteo Lai, a member of the design team from architectural firm Carlo Ratti Associati of Turin, Italy.

“There is also a dramatic change in the way these water walls are deployed, because they are interactive: they respond to users’ different needs and the building’s different uses. For the first time, water walls are able to change over time and over different operating conditions,” Lai told Water & Wastewater News.

Lai said similar attempts at manipulating water have been attempted, such as at car shows from Jeep. In the Jeep example, however, the water wall was indoors and on a much smaller scale than the pavilion that will be built in Spain.

The exterior of the pavilion will be like a large display, with text, letters, and interactive patterns. The project will rely entirely on recycled water, although the specific amount used has yet to be determined by the team.

The concept initially was developed in the Zaragoza Digital Mile class at MIT, led by William Mitchell, head of MIT’s Design Laboratory and former dean of architecture, and Dennis Frenchman, with Michael Joroff and Carlo Ratti. Ratti is head of MIT’s SENSEable City Laboratory. The design team includes Walter Nicolino, Ratti, Claudio Bonicco, and Lai of Carlo Ratti Associati; engineering company Arup of London and Madrid, Spain; and landscape architects Agence Ter of Paris, France.

Aside from the pavilion’s water technology architectural showpiece, the expo has several other exhibits dealing with water issues. Among them will be the Waterscapes river aquarium, Bridge Pavilion devoted to water resource issues, Water Tower exhibit dealing with physical properties of water, Extreme Water exhibit spotlighting the risks and grandeur of water’s properties, and Thirst, detailing the need for water and how it reaches the public.

In keeping with the expo’s environmentally friendly theme, the exhibition will use 100- percent renewable energy. All material used to promote the expo will be organic. Bags made from potato starch will be used, most paper used will be recycled, and pens will be made from algae paper or used cars. For more information on the project, go to Details about the expo can be found at

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

About the Author

Debbie Bolles is managing editor of Water & Wastewater News.

Featured Webinar