The Water Cube, Bubble-Clad Olympic Wonder

It looks blue, but it’s green, and it’s here. As big, eye-catching Olympics architecture goes, nothing may be as sustainable as the Beijing National Aquatics Center, or Water Cube, the latest cutting-edge building to open on the enormous construction site that is China.

Taking the structure of soap bubbles as inspiration (and mimicking nature’s way of filling 3-d space most efficiently), PTW Architects and Arup gave the $200 million Cube an elegant, light-weight design: a rectangular box covered in iridescent bubble wrap.


But it does more than look cool. The 100,000 square meters of the Teflon-like translucent plastic ETFE that make up the building’s bubble cladding allow in more solar heat than glass, making it easier to heat the building, and resulting in a 30 percent reduction in energy costs. That’s especially important for a swimming pool, which requires an enormous amount of heating. (Though the building’s ETFE was manufactured abroad, meaning more pollution in construction than would there have been with locally available materials, designers emphasize that the energy savings are substantial, equivalent to covering the roof in solar panels.) Read more

Solar Bag Purifies Water While You Walk

Access to drinking water is a major issue in the developing world, especially in Africa, where dirty water kills more people than violence. Solar water purification is a tried and true method of using UV rays to kill harmful bacteria and viruses in water, and we’ve featured a good number of designs that harness the process (see a few at the left). The Solar Bag, created by Ryan Lynch and Marcus Triest is another in the genre that stands out.


The idea is pretty simple: fill the bag with 2.5 gallons of water, sling it over your shoulder, and let the sun do its work while you walk. Lynch and Triest say the idea takes into account how far some people need to walk to access even dirty water. Within six hours, the water in the bag is safe to drink. Read more

How to Conserve Water

Although nearly three-quarters of our planet is covered in water, only 1 to 2 percent can support terrestrial life. Growing human demand, the proliferation of urban sprawl, and wasteful agribusiness consumption are draining our reservoirs and straining water treatment, distribution, and disposal systems. As water is hijacked from rivers and streams, the amount of sand that accumulates on beaches also diminishes, threatening the health of vital coastal wetlands and wildlife.


Droughts, flooding, and other extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change are also making fresh water an increasingly scarce commodity. In fact, the struggle over the world’s depleting water resources, much like with oil today, is a crisis that will likely come to a head some time this century. But even if you live in an area with abundant water resources, helping to conserve what comes out of your faucet will also save you money and energy. Here are some ways you can help, excerpted from 50 Ways to Save the Ocean (2006, New World Library) by David Helvarg. Read more

5 Documentaries You Must See to Understand the Water Crisis

There’s a lot to know about the world’s water crisis–as you can tell from the month of posts we’ve been doing on just this one topic. But if you’re new to the discussion, catch up in one weekend with these five documentaries. From in-depth background on the political, social, and economic factors that are causing the crisis to personal stories from people affected by it, you’ll understand the problem in a whole new way.

water-documentaries-you-must-seeWater Voices

This seven-episode set (don’t worry: each is only about 22 minutes) highlights the way the water crisis affects everyday life in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Fiji, India, Kiribati, Philippines, Thailand, and Tonga. Watch as a community joins together to rescue a coral reef in Fiji, as women in India fight shortages by finding new ways to transport water, and as a handful of other men, women, and children stand up to claim enough clean, safe water for themselves and their neighbors. Read more

Innovative water technologies aim for more crop per drop

When regions are water-stressed, local farmers are forced to use less water (or lower-quality water) for irrigation, which affects not just the quality and quantity of the crops, but also the quality of life for the growers, in terms of lost income. And with droughts hitting many areas of the world, developing more efficient ways to water crops, while still maintaining yields, could make a big difference in local food systems.


One project, called FLOW-AID (Farm Level Optimal Water Management Assistant for Irrigation Under Deficit), has been working on innovative technologies that would allow farmers to increase their water use efficiency by up to 60%, while also reducing the fertilizer demands by up to 30%. These same technologies could also help to reduce nutrient leaching, which not only affects the soil in the fields, but also any waterways downstream from them. Read more