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What if you could produce clean drinking water just by running your air conditioner?

This experiment was conducted this past summer to determine how much water could potentially be captured from a home’s rooftop package air conditioning unit during the hottest days of the year. Conducted in July 2017 during a particularly sweltering Los Angeles week, Eau De Maison documents the process of constructing the water capture system, implementing the experiment, and analyzing the results of the follow-up water quality testing.

Thanks to Wallace Laboratories for their assistance. Music by Protman. Produced for AHBE LAB.

Photo: Topographic Map by TBWA Istanbul.

Photo: Topographic Map by TBWA Istanbul.

Several years ago my family decided that sustainability should begin with us. Thus we started reducing our household water, waste, and energy consumption. The transformation was not immediate despite our commitment. Although the people who lived around us seemed equally concerned about environmental issues, I remember nervously awaiting my neighbors’ reactions when we removed our front lawn. In the few years since, my drought tolerant front garden is among several in my area. The traditional lawn, however, is still prevalent in the neighborhood; so we can do much more as a community.

On April 1st, Governor Brown issued an executive order mandating a 25% reduction, from 2013 levels, in California’s water consumption. A frenzy of news reports and opinions followed the Governor’s announcement, accompanied by many eye-opening images showing the record lows of our lake and snowpack levels, the depletion of the Central Valley aquifer, and so much more.

Living a sustainable life sustainably is a practice that I am committed to personally and professionally. Our state’s crisis demands more rigorous conservation practices, even if it is disruptive to the way we live. In our profession of landscape architecture, water management and water distribution considerations will have greater significance in the design of spaces.

But, not everyone shares this point of view.

In the days since the Governor’s announcement, I have been surprised by people’s attitude of temporary compliance. Do people truly believe that our diminishing water supply will magically go away if the restrictions end? “Water fairies” will apparently save us.

Studies on human behavior reveal the complexity of a change in social practices. One such study, called the Consensus Project, examines sustainable consumption through multiple factors. Its findings indicate that people develop, over time, perceptions of what is “normal” for their daily routines and physical comfort and these perceptions shape behaviors. A new definition of “normal” must be reached for a change in social practice to occur. The situation we now face seems to be a defining moment for social transformation.

March 22nd was World Water Day, an annual celebration designated in 1992 by the United Nations General Assembly in celebration and awareness of water around the globe. My social media page flickered as facts and opinions about water were posted and shared. I read, for what seemed like hours, about water consumption, water poverty, drought and flood conditions, environmental justice and so much more, filling my brain with information and drawing connections to my own behavior as a concerned citizen of this planet. World Water Day raised public awareness about global water issues.

So now what? Awareness is good as long as it is well informed and results in farsighted strategies. As designers of gardens and public spaces, our work has relevance from a water perspective.

  • How do we focus our work for the challenges ahead?
  • What questions should we ask when beginning our design process?
  • Who do we call upon for input so that our inquiries remain well informed and at the edge?

Our expertise is discovering and revealing the essence of place. We are designers, not scientists. We cannot, after all, create water out of air. Or can we? Now that is a fun idea to explore for the landscape!

April is officially World Landscape Architecture Month. All month AHBE LAB will be exploring and celebrating the many facets of our profession, specifically the topics, ideas, and themes which influence our work as landscape architects, both locally and globally.

Photo: Calvin Abe/AHBE Landscape Architects

Photo: Calvin Abe/AHBE Landscape Architects

This photograph captured while flying over Lake Casitas, a man-made lake located about 80 mile north of Los Angeles, illustrates an interesting landscape pattern formed by the ongoing California drought. As the water level drops in the lake – at its max Lake Casitas offers a capacity of 254,000 acre ft. – we begin to see how vegetation is associated through its topography. The varying layers of vegetation is due to the mositure content of the soil, topographic elevations, and the physical soil composition. This demonstrates how nature builds an ecology that is interdependent on multiple levels.