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Água Carioca – Ooze Architects. Constructed Wetlands, Rio de Janeiro. November 2016 – March 2017

The Água Carioca research project for Rio de Janeiro aims to design a sustainable water management system and resilient infrastructure in a city where 70% of the population of 8.48 million people is currently not connected to a sewage network and the city produces 20.000 litres of human waste water flow per second into Guanabara Bay. Água Carioca identifies the ways in which a city could adapt, evolve and share its water resources and waste collection network in a cost effective and durable system opposed by the challenges of a large population and agents of pollution.

Água Carioca created Constructed Wetlands to produce clean water and rich vegetation, adapted to the social, economic and cultural conditions in neighbourhoods that may also remind people how it was to swim in the river, to gather in beautiful public spaces or nurture their own garden.

The research for Água Carioca analyzed the potential for natural, self-sufficient and decentralized small-scale water management in informal settlements in the city through four design proposals in different different favelas: A CIEP school in Maré  for 900 school children – a neighbourhood in Morro do Salgueiro with 750 inhabitants – Morro da Formiga with 2700 inhabitants – and Rio das Pedras with approximately 90,000 inhabitants. Each proposal integrates a closed water cycle into its social, spatial and ecological context with the aim of creating a local renewable water cycle.

Constructed Wetlands

What are Constructed Wetlands?

Constructed Wetlands are natural water purification systems that are at the heart of the proposal and are essentially, a shallow basin filled with a substrate, usually sand and gravel, and planted with vegetation tolerant of saturated conditions. Waste water is introduced into the basin and flows through the substrate, during which the wastewater will come into contact with a network of aerobic, anoxic and anaerobic zones, which via a series of processes can effectively remove the organic pollutants from the wastewater.

The climate and ecological conditions influence the surface of wetlands needed per person, its efficiency, the retention time and flow rate. Important factors are the substrate and plant species best matched to the hydrology of the wetland.

The warm climate in Brazil is especially favourable for the processes in constructed wetlands. The cleaning process is exhilarated and the size of wetland can be reduced compared with colder climates. It is estimated that ca. 2m2 of wetland are needed per person.They are predominantly solar powered wastewater treatment systems, in which natural processes remove pollutants form the water. The pollutants in waste water are broken down in a filtration process in which micro-organisms stick to the oxygen producing roots of helophyte plants and enable the purification process. The solution for water management looks at implementation and integration of these systems into various urban situations across Rio in coordination with local spatial, ecological, cultural and social conditions. These systems are designed to work independently from complex, large scale water management systems.

Água Carioca was first exhibited at Studio-X in Rio de Janeiro in April and May 2014, along with the premiere of Água Carioca Diarios, a documentary film aimed to create heightened public awareness for the inhabitants – users, professionals, thinkers and activists – of the problem of water supply, water management and sewage treatment in Rio de Janeiro.

From November 2016 to March 2017, the first Água Carioca pilot project was constructed and exhibited in Sitio Burle Marx, Rio de Janeiro, home of Brazilian architect, Roberto Burle Marx, demonstrating the potential for an alternative wetland filtering system built at a small scale.

A supporting exhibition at Studio-X showed intermediate results for the four different neighbourhoods Mare, Morro do Salgueiro, Morro da Formiga, and Rio das Pedras.  The four proposals speculated how it could be implemented on a larger scale in the communities and gave a hint on the regional and political context around the issue of water supply and pollution of the Guanabara bay.The project has been carried out in close cooperation with the iresidents of the neighbourhoods and received the support of several non-governmental and governmental organizations. Further proposals were discussed for the Museo do Amahna and the Jardim Botanico.

OOZE is an international design practice operating in the fields of architecture and urbanism, based in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Founded by Eva Pfannes and Sylvain Hartenberg in 2003, OOZE combines an elaborate understanding of natural, ecological processes with technological expertise and deep insights into the social-cultural behaviour of users of the built environment. Their design and research projects, constructed in collaborative processes that balance imaginations of futures with urgent, current needs, are transformative tools at the hand of agents. They allow users to appropriate a space and develop it further. OOZE strives to be a catalyst for change and believe that change is incremental. Each project, each art installation, building, public space or urban structure is both, the product of a way of living and an idea of adapting this way of living to achieve a more social and ecological sustainability. The cyclic processes found in nature form the base for each intervention and integrate the human scale within a holistic urban strategy.

Support: Consuado Geral dos Países Baixos, Creative Industries Funds NL, Prefeitura da Cidade do Rio de Janeiro, Sítio Roberto Burle-Marx, Studio-X Rio



Studio-X Rio de Janeiro

About jeh

Jeremy Hunt is Director of the AAJ Press (Art & Architecture Journal / Press) – a writer and consultant on art and public space


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