Jim Keeling set up the well-known Whichford Pottery and was instrumental in the Oxford Anagama Project. Keeling spoke to a sizeable audience of potters and other makers in Making Lewes member Studio Hardie’s ad hoc evening venue on Friday 28th. Alongside exploring his thirty year Whichford Pottery journey, Keeling also told us about making and building a version of the ancient Japanese Anagama kiln, in the heart of Oxfordshire’s Whytham Woods, and his hopes and fears for the future of craft in current times.
Architect Niklaus Graber, curator of Bengal Dreams, the major Swiss Architecture Museum exhibition currently touring Europe, provided an in-depth exploration of the relationship of architecture and water in the Bangladesh delta, where, with the majority of this populous nation’s land sitting at below sea level, there is a need to work carefully with water at all levels of society, including the built fabric.
Niklaus was joined by Ruhul Abdin of the London-Dhaka Paraa, one of the studios featured in the Bengal Dreams exhibition, who discussed the social and participatory dimension of the studio’s work, with children, communities and at the broader urban level.
Ruhul was followed by Maggie Black, a water and sanitation expert, who has worked for many years at Oxfam and is the author of the Global Atlas of Water. Maggie provided a rounded, holistic overview of why sanitation and water issues are so entangled with each other, and how both needed to be seen through a single prism to begin to work to meet these seemingly insuperable challenges.
After Maggie we moved from the developing world and its pollution issues, to the world-wide one of rising water levels, cities and other urban areas, and what floating buildings could contribute to this whole planet challenge. Richard Coutts, principal BACA Architects, leading UK specialist floating buildings studio, sped through a presentation of the many projects and research concepts he and BACA have been involved in, while illuminating for the audience how policy and Governmental change is opening up the possibilities for scaling floating building infrastructure in the soon to arrive future.
By way of complete contrast the water performance by Clare Whistler and Charlotte Still, co-founders of Pevensey Marshes Water Week Festival and Jane Trowell from PLATFORM was a moment of in-breathing stillness in the busy afternoon of speakers, stories and information. The trio had made the upstairs quarters, the octagonal walkway of Fitzroy House, the site of their performance, letting water fall from a medieval monastic water carrier. They quietly sang as the water fell, a grieving psalm of loss for what humankind has wrought on the water world, before descending to the ground auditorium to be interviewed by one of their number, Jane Trowell asking questions of Whistler and Still, about their wider Pevensey Water Week Festival work.
Andri Snaer Magnasson began in on his super-entertaining, very funny and completely serious tale of what brought him to the southern reaches of Britain. Magnasson began with his attempts to get published – eventually through local supermarket magnates Bonus, before gradually building to his central involvement in large scale public protests and attempts to stop a massive dam project of central Highlands Iceland – the largest in Europe – which provided electrical energy for an Alcoa aluminium plant on the island’s Eastern coast. Though ultimately unsuccessful, through his Dreamland book and film activism Snaer was influential in shifting public opinion against damming of Iceland’s rivers and the destruction of its wildlife wetlands. By the end of his riveting story Magnasson had brought the house down, with his off-centre humour, had the MLF audience in the palm of his hand, and had imparted with radical lightness of touch, one instance of the water wars on the small mid-Atlantic island.
Our final speakers were from Berlin. But they were presenting at Building With Water because of the consequences of what is happening upriver from other massive highland river damming projects, this time on the Turkish and Kurdistani Iraq border. Leon Radeljic from ZRS Architects/Engineers and Leif Hinrichson from the Jiyan Foundation, shared their story of a remarkable project, theChamchamal Healing Garden for Victims of Torture and War Trauma, in the city of Chamchamal, Northern (Kurdistani) Iraq. The project includes buildings using traditional rammed earth techniques, once popular, now perceived to be old fashioned, amidst a well-cultivated garden and animal sanctuary. The garden, and other aspects of the project are only possible because of the integration of a decentralised water purification system, which ensures water for the garden’s plants to grow and be cultivated. This in the context of Iraq facing water starvation, drought and worse because of the Turkish Government’s control of the dam’s in the upland border region of the two ancient rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates. Once again the naked powerplay of politics was uncovered and visible, though with the Chamchamal Healing Garden an inspirational counter-example had been placed in front of the audience, graphically proposing the reach of the possible and a sign of hope in the future
As the symposium’s closing speakers ended the afternoon we had travelled from the low lying delta of Bangladesh, through the pragmatic concerns of sanitation, the technological adaptation of floating architecture, and the symbolic loss of water world’s embodied in performance art, to the highlands and uplands of Iceland and the Middle East, all connected to each other by the flow motion world of Planet Water.