Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Of Dune and the Wealth of Water

In 1965, Frank Herbert published the novel Dune which would go on to be called the world's best-selling science fiction novel of all time. In it, Herbert describes a desert world in which it's inhabitants struggle to survive in an inhospitable environment where water, in any form, is an extremely valuable resource. To spit on the ground while greeting someone is considered a highly respectful act and water is distilled from the dead. Such is the value of water that any form is carefully considered and conserved. The population has adapted to live in this harsh dystopian world. In 1965, this novel explored an environmental concept relegated to deserts that seem foreign to much of the worlds population, but today the real-world impact of water use and conservation is becoming a harsh reality.

The country of Kenya, on the east coast of Africa is in the midst of a two year drought. Traditionally, there are two rainy seasons, the long and the short which, in the past, have provided much of the regions water during approximately six to eight months of the year. However, the drought has reduced the rains from an average of 4-5 times per week to one rain every three weeks. The evident impact is immediate. Without rain, little grass can grow throughout the country and because of this, the soil cannot be held in place, and the result is large swaths of dirt where once fertile soil existed. The dust is everywhere and can be seen in the atmosphere. The national parks, which make up much of the regions income through safari tourism, are experiencing mass dying-off of animals which cannot survive on such little water and vegetation. The desertification of the region is compounded by lakes which are drying up not only due to the drought, but also by large-scale irrigation practices for a growing wildflower industry. Water collection and conservation, which has long been practiced, is now becoming a critical factor in all development.

Using the novel Dune as a precedent, Andrew Kudliss of the firm Matsys has proposed, Sietch Nevada, an ecologically engineered desert environment "that makes the storage, use, and collection of water essential to the form and performance of urban life." Using the desert landscape of the American southwest, the project is an underground community of canals living space, and urban development tht connects the land above with the deep aquifers below. Cellular in structure and planning, the proposal mimics natural water erosion created landscape but also allows the cells to form the community organization.

Seen on BLDG BLOG. Sietch Nevada images via Matsys.

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