Can plumbing be sexy? Architect Andrés Jaque, a 2014 Design Vanguard winner, proposes that it can indeed with COSMO, a gargantuan water-purifying pavilion. On February 5, the Museum of Modern Art’s contemporary-art space MoMA PS1 announced Jaque’s design as winner of its annual Young Architects Program and as the centerpiece of its outdoor music series in the courtyard of the Long Island City building. The other finalists for the program were Erin Besler, Bittertang, Brillhart Architecture, and Studio Benjamin Dillenburger.
Jaque’s project, which will be completed in June, aims to get the public thinking about the sustainability of water use—the UN estimates that in the next decade, two-thirds of the world’s population will lack sufficient access to fresh water—but to have fun doing it.
“We think of sustainability as something we need, but we are proposing it is something that we desire, is beautiful, and somehow could be celebratory,” says the architect, whose firm, Office for Political Innovation, is based in New York and Madrid.
In renderings, COSMO is a structure of sinuous steel pipes and cables sitting atop the chassis of a crop-irrigation machine; it resembles a chandelier on wheels. Over the course of the summer, it will purify 3,000 gallons of water—the equivalent of about 60 bathtubs-full—every four days. (The semi-treated water will come from New York treatment plants.)
First the water will rest inside four transparent tanks at COSMO’s base, within controlled ecosystems. It will then be pumped upward and circulate through a complex network of pipes, tanks, and hoses. With the help of the sun and algae and various microorganisms, anaerobic and aerobic digestion will remove particles, balance the water’s PH, eliminate nitrates, and increase its level of dissolved oxygen, making the water increasingly pure over the course of the summer, with other processes aiding as well. The architect estimates that the environment in and around the pavilion will be 6 degrees cooler.
The design is familiar territory for Jaque. In 2012, he designed Escaravox, a mobile party pavilion for a Madrid square. The work, equal parts building and machine, also consisted of a repurposed crop irrigator, but was topped with a striped canopy and equipped with a sound system for performances. In fact, COSMO represents an omnibus of many of the ideas Jaque has explored, including public participation, lending visibility to the unseen, and building with ready-made, off- the-shelf components.
COSMO, however, is Escaravox on steroids. The structure expands, like a gigantic piece of origami, and will be motorized to move to wherever the courtyard programming dictates. Because irrigation systems are available almost everywhere, Jaque hopes this design can be replicated. Jaque calls it “Living Architecture”: “For us, COSMO is a great opportunity to create a manifesto of what architecture can do now for society,” he says.
The best part? The design team plans to introduce microbes that will become phosphorescent when the water reaches an optimal level of purity, illuminating the courtyard at night. Basically, says Jaque, the designers “are trying to make a disco ball about nature.” Party on.