Photo wall of water

In the course of history, water has been an integral part of the any building (Roman domus, castle, abbey, piazza…). This resource was not only used for the supply of water, but was considered an indispensable element in itself, because it is able to give feelings of well-being and harmony.

Water, project and history

In the gardens, patios and peristyles the pools, pools, fountains and ponds were both aesthetic and therapeutic elements at the same time; on one side they reflected the trees, the rocks, the statues and the sky, on the other they guaranteed the purification and ionization of the air during the hot summers.

In this type of environment, water reaches its maximum positive effect when it is in motion.

Streams, Flowforms, cascades and fountains with various shapes (for example spiral) give life sensations and their relaxing sound relieves tension.

The shapes of the moving water have inspired artists and scientists, from Leonardo da Vinci onwards, and are now the basis of new bio-ecological building and urban planning projects.


The Fontana Contarini is a white marble octagon of Zandobbio dominating the center of Piazza Vecchia, the most famous and popular square in the Città Alta. Around the basin are statues of sphinxes, snakes and lions, guarding the fountain. The monument, donated to Bergamo by the Podestà Alvise Contarini in 1780, has not always been there where you see it now: for about 30 years it was dismantled to make room for a statue of Garibaldi, then moved to the lower town at the beginning of 1900.

Contarini Fountain in Bergamo

It is important to recover the sense of history to design new settlements attentive to respect, recovery and revitalization of water.

Wells and fountains are among the oldest furnishing elements, since they had the function of supplying water for domestic purposes (washing, drinking…) to all the inhabitants of the city who did not own a well.

Their presence in the city was therefore a utilitarian fact that became, in many cases, a decorative element, to the point of reaching forms of great importance and monumentality.

The visual and psychological pleasure that water procures has contributed over time to the definition of a great variety of forms in the urban environment as well as in the non-built one (parks, gardens).

In different centuries and in different architectural styles, both moving and calm waters have been privileged: water chains, jets and waterfalls in the Italian garden, as  opposed to the large pools of the classical French garden to the romantic, and the shady lakes of English parks.

A significant historical example is represented in the Villa – Castello dei Farnese called Lante in Caprarola – Viterbo (around 1559 – 1564), where Jacopo Barozzi, known as Vignola, created the so-called “water chain” with stone dolphins. the course of water that descends from the fountain on the bottom, adorned by two allegorical statues of rivers.

On the sides, two green stairs lead to the Palazzina del Piacere, a corner of the gardens where the ancient owners were looking for refreshment on Summer days.

The water that descends with rhythmic movements from the fountain favors a pleasant microclimate.

The "Water Chain" created by Vignola, uses the fall as a decorative element with two sides of dolphins chasing each other.

“Water Chain” arch. Vignola

Water chain and modiglione with references to spiral shapes, by architect Vignola

In warm climates the water flows inside (patios, courtyards and gardens) of the house using architectures inspired by Moorish and Spanish buildings.

In temperate climates, where the presence of water inside the house is less frequent and essential, its proximity creates special suggestions.

The idea of ​​water in a garden is so important to the Japanese that sometimes in the Zen gardens is symbolized by stones, gravel and sand. Similar in this to a miniature planetary hydrological cycle, the water inside the house and around it, helps to regulate the humidity, increases the percentage of beneficial ions, purifies and cools the air.

It is also the most effective conductor and heat storer that exists and is used in solar homes and in many forms of heating and cooling of the house.

The "Water Chain" created by Vignola, uses the fall as a decorative element with two sides of dolphins chasing each other.

“Water Chain” arch. Vignola

Water recovery to design bio – ecologically

The plumbing systems in buildings favor the waste of water; consequently, even if one tries to change their behavior, this may not be sufficient to obtain appreciable results.

Since the toilets use almost half of the water and the bathrooms and showers a third, it is first useful to focus on these areas of the house.

Since the flushing toilet was introduced in the nineteenth century, the mechanism has remained almost the same.

A normal toilet ranges from 9 liters of water in Britain and Australia to 20 liters in the United States for each discharge.

Today toilet flush toilets are available that use 6 or even 4 liters per discharge.

The importance of saving in the water resource as a theme for experimentation is motivated by the significant role played by water consumption in the civil construction sector compared to global consumption.

It can be seen that in urban areas domestic use prevails sharply over all the others and the average domestic consumption per inhabitant in Italy (220 liters per inhabitant per day) is much higher than that in European countries with a higher standard of living (the average higher temperature and the tourists do not justify such data).

This consumption can be reduced by using rainwater.

Rainwater is generally not drinkable, but it can be used after being biodepurated (with inert material, activated carbon and plants) to irrigate greenhouses, gardens, vegetable gardens, food, toilets, washing machines, car wash, communal parts of buildings such as stairwells, hallways, etc.

In various areas, especially industrial areas, it is possible to find in rain water the presence of polluting substances; it is therefore essential to check the degree of pollution before designing any collecting systems, in any case there are devices (automatic separators) that eliminate the first most polluted rain waters (they get discharged into the sewer system) which are then filtered.

The use of water in all settlements, both new and already existing, must be based on the principle of maximum respect, on the one side on the recovery of the culture of saving and the low pollution of drinking water; on the other side on the reuse of water rainfall, as well as the maximum closure of this cycle.

All this would allow for a lower commitment to the public sewage, saving in the sizing and operation of the purifiers, less need for space to deposit the sediments of the purifiers.

Tutto questo permetterebbe un minore impegno per la fognatura pubblica, risparmio nel dimensionamento e nell’esercizio dei depuratori, fabbisogno minore di spazio per depositare i sedimenti dei depuratori.

It is clear that the careful consumption of the essential element of water presupposes a certain sensitivity of the user and this, unfortunately, can only be desired (through activities of environmental awareness) but not enforced.

What happens to the good quality water we waste?

Good quality water really necessary for everyday life can be reduced to a few tens of liters per day per person, while we waste several hundred, without deriving proportional benefits.

Whatever the use, water ends up in the sewers mixing with black waters, then it continues with its load of waste to the rivers and the sea.

For new settlements one could conceive two water systems, one for drinking water and one for rainwater, obviously previously bio-purificated. 

Building does not always mean destroying nature.

Through an ecological realization of houses and complexes, a contribution can be made to the improvement of the environment and the climate of the city.

Construction based on bio-ecological principles and therefore also the integration of water into the project (water wall, balustrade flowforms, ponds/biofitodepuration) saves resources and promotes the environmental consciousness of men.

Today, the culture of water both in the urban and building context, by architects and urban planners is expressed only through a logic, which is identified in the design of large networks and purification systems on both sides of hydraulic systems with always greater use of drinking water that is no longer reusable (see flushing, tanks, showers, etc.).

This logic prefers segregation, intubation and finally purification with large artificial kidneys (traditional purifiers) and the timely discharge of large quantities of wastewater into a single point of the watercourse.


Example of Flowforms

Large quantities of water are wasted, and viceversa they could be re-used.

In many European cities, one for all Friborg in Germany, for many years the policy followed by the various administrations is based on the maximum savings and respect of the water resource, through recovery systems, reuse to create aesthetic elements such as streams, waterfalls, fountains, sinuous paths in the squares, in the settlements and above all in the single dwellings, as well as on the careful design of small scale biofitodepuration systems (maximum 2,000 ab./eq.), which in fact become parks – gardens usable by the people involved in the design (the so called “awareness raising”).

Some fixed points to implement water saving

To implement a prudent management of water saving both in the architectural project and at the territorial level we can hypothesize some points:

  • economizationof drinking water through the use of rainwater recovered for various uses (flushing, irrigation, fire systems, feeding fountains and resins);
  • installation in the buildings of hydraulic systems to be driven with reduced use of water (3-6 liters for flushing),
  • design of separate supply pipes for drinking water and purified rainwater,
  • biofitodepuration of gray waters reused for irrigation of the public green;
  • water infiltration rainwater for groundwater recovery,
  • rainwater recovery as useful water from roofs to feed ponds, fountains (creation of free spaces of educational-recreational quality) then stored in cisterns for a functional/aesthetic reuse in relation to the built,
  • decentralized purification of the waste water, close to the place of production through connected sedimentation and biofitodepuration systems;
  • discharge of purified water into re-naturalized watercourses or reused only for public green irrigation;
  • improvement of the microclimate inside the building or of complexes through the refreshing effect of plants, ponds, waterfalls, water walls and sinuous paths from which water evaporates,
  • oxygenation and revitalization of water kept in motion (for example with Flowforms waterfalls).

Biofitodepuration understood as a family of techniques applicable to the various territorial contexts (renaturation of watercourses with small flow, ex-caves, degraded areas, urban voids, existing purifiers, etc.), must be considered and inserted in a logic of decentralization.

The most satisfactory territorial dimensions on which to intervene are:

  • building scale from 1 – 20 inhabitants / eq. (single-family house, semi-detached house, terraced houses);
  • building scale from 20 – 100 inhabitants / eq. (terraced houses, PEEP, condominiums, sports facilities, small businesses);
  • urban scale from 100 – 500 inhabitants / eq. (neighborhood portions, subdivisions);
  • urban scale from 500 – 1.000 inhabitants / eq. (parts of cities, small municipalities, mountain communities, water parks);
  • territorial scale from 1,000 to 10,000 inhabitants / eq. (industrial areas, agricultural areas, medium-sized communities, etc.).

Water Architecture

By Water Architecture we mean:

The art and technique of conceiving, designing and creating building products that dialogue but above all respect the element of water (cistern – impluvium, water corridors, flowforms with balustrade, Living machines or vertical aquariums, water gardens, water chains, resins, water greenhouse, infiltration systems…)

from Feng shui, architecture, environment, water, (1998) Macro Edizioni (Fo).

Water Architecture, through a series of techniques, deals with the saving, recovery, rehabilitation, revitalization and dynamization of the resource.It is important to apply these techniques to the study of the forms (mainly meandering and lemniscate, that is to say, a reverse eight) and the use of environmentally friendly materials.

The planning interventions can be at various scales: landscape interventions such as the re-naturalization of watercourses, the restoration of natural ecosystems (biotopes, ponds, lakes), infiltration systems; interventions on an urban scale:

  • retention systems,
  • biofitodepuration,
  • risins,
  • planning of squares of water;
  • construction scale: cisterns, biofitodepuration, risins, dynamic fountains.

How to use this knowledge at the building level

Sustainable water cycle techniques can also be applied at building level, using water saving systems (faucets with an eco-top system, reduced water flushing, tap water energizers), systems for the recovery of rainwater (cocciopesto cisterns), subsurface flow biofitodepuration systems, risins or waterways and dynamizing fountains.

Regarding the sustainability of urban green, in our cities we should recover the ancient rule that every piece of furniture, while indispensable, should be seen as little as possible.

Foto parete d'acqua

Everything should be inserted in Nature and dialogue with it to recreate healthier and livable environments.

As well as being an aesthetic-functional element, vegetation should also have among its primary objectives the purification of air and the improvement of the environmental microclimate.

Abandoned areas, squares, urban voids as well as walls, railings, baskets, benches and any other piece of furniture, even if aesthetically pleasing, must guarantee a discreet inclusion in the natural environment that has been created with the green in the middle of the inert structures of city.

It is not the décor that beautifies the city but nature with some elements necessary for better usability of the green.

Urban forestation interventions guarantee man the return of nature in the city, in order to recreate in the middle of the asphalt, the reinforced concrete, the icy artificiality, the natural environment, a place where to live and sometimes even to meditate are possible.

Save water

Recognizing the importance of the water element and respecting its natural cycle for the future of the planet, the United Nations General Assembly declared the 2003 International Year of Water.

Even today, we must reflect on the problems related to this resource, but above all act and plan interventions to redevelop the territory, rehabilitate rivers, sources, make the soil permeable, encourage the recovery and saving of rainwater and purification interventions with natural techniques.

To this cycle a whole series of actions and systems that revitalize and energize drinking water must be added.

We can all do something like consumers, designers and producers.

Vandana Shiva – Indian scientist among the top international experts in social ecology in her latest book (The Water Wars – Feltrinelli), indicates the nine principles on which one should base the democracy of water:

  1. water is a gift from nature;
  2. water is essential to life, all species and all ecosystems are entitled to their share of water on the planet;
  4. water must be free for livelihood needs;
  5. water is limited and is subject to exhaustion;
  6. water must be kept;7- water is a communal good;
  7. nobody has the right to destroy it, by abusing it, wasting it or polluting it;
  8. water is not replaceable and can not be treated like a commodity;

On the one hand it is worth noticing the low propensity to save in this field in Italy and on the other hand the low tariffs do not encourage savings.

The poor monetary value of the property is also due to improper uses such as the watering of the gardens.

The type of installations is also very important: pipes, fittings, toilet flushes of exaggerated capacity can significantly increase consumption

Use of water as an interior design

It is important to use the water inside the houses, the ancient art of Wind and Water advises to place it in the areas with a magnetism related to the Flying Star timely (Stars 8, 9 and 1 Water Dragons).

In the market there are indoor waterfall fountains that produce ions and aromatize the interior environment with essential oils.

The ionizing effect produced by the passage of water droplets in the air guarantees a beneficial result on the site (rebalancing between the presence of positive charge ions in the air and the negative ions spherics, natural radiations normally present in the air).

Medical research has shown that an excess of positive ions in confined environments causes a feeling of discomfort in most people, while if negative ions are predominant, they favor well-being and work performance.

In the cascade fountains, the water flows following a right-handed spiral shape (clockwise) in synergy with the lemniscate movement (infinity shape) inside the eight small cups forming the entire fountain.

This rhythmic sequence contributes to the revitalization of water and the cooling of confined spaces.

The cascade fountain is considered as a system of humidity balance and control, especially during the winter period in conjunction with the operation of radiators, as well as the production of negative ions important for air quality.

In the market there are indoor waterfall fountains that produce ions and aromatize the internal environment with essential oils.

Luminous wall of water

Bibliography and details

Architettura dell’acqua

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Dreiseitl H., Grau D., Ludwig K H. C., (2001), Waterscapes, Planning, Building and Designing with Water, Birkhäuser, Basel.

Parancola S., (1998), L’energia dell’acqua per rivitalizzare gli ambienti, Ambiente & Salute, n° 2, Tc, Padova.

Parancola S., (1999), Biofitodepurazione: concetti, pianificazione ed esempi, in Urbanistica informazioni, n° 164, marzo-aprile, INU.

Parancola S., (1999), Ciclo dell’acqua e verde in ambiente urbano, in Progetti per una città sostenibile, Politiche abitative, esperienze di bioarchitettura e urbanistica partecipata a Padova,  Comune di Padova, Assessorato alle Politiche Abitative, Padova.

Parancola S., (2000), “Il giardino della fitodepurazione”, in  Magiche piante magiche, un itinerario segreto, Macro edizioni (Fo).

Parancola S., Trevisiol E. R., (2003) Manuale di biofitodepurazione, Edicom, Monfalcone.

Schwenk T., (1988), Il caos sensibile, ed. Arcobaleno, Oriago (VE).

Too L., (1996), Water Feng shui for Wealth, Konsep Lagenda Sdn Bhd, Malaysia.

Trevisiol E., (2002), Ciclo delle acque e ambiente costruito, Il Sole 24 ore, Milano.

Watts A. W., (1997), Il Tao: la via dell’acqua che scorre, Ubaldini editore, Roma.

Nichols J. W. (2014), Blue Mind, Macro Edizioni, Cesena.