What Happens to the Water After it Rains? A Lecture

This past week we have had several storms blow through Southwestern Ontario, softening the heat in a temporary deluge. I walked home through one of these storms, soaked to the skin, shoes off with the torrential rain rushing past my ankles, down into the mysterious drain by my house. The road becomes a river and channels this liquid storm into some unknown subterranean lair where it magically disappears into some system, spread out and, I suppose, eventually cascading into one lake or river.

On Thursday July 4th, landscape architect Yvonne Batista and process design engineer Genevieve Kenny came to the University of Waterloo School of Architecture to give a lecture on these mysterious systems and processes, demystifying and revealing the often forgotten stormwater infrastructure that plays a critical role in ensuring our cities are not inundated at the slightest summer storm. The lecture, focused around the question, “What happens to the rain after it falls?” was divided between Yvonne and Genevieve, who each shared their perspective on particular projects that they worked on together and separately.

To answer their question, Yvonne talked about her work as a landscape architect with DTAH, where she has been part of a range of large scale projects in Toronto and the surrounding areas. She outlined the role of landscape design in both shaping the qualitative and quantitative functioning of public space. Water infrastructure, usually thought to be an intrusion on what we would define as ‘beautiful’ public space, can in fact be used to enhance the public realm, creating new urban spaces that contribute to the increasing need for resilient infrastructure.

Genevieve, an engineer at RV Anderson, took us through some of her projects that dealt with particularly challenging requirements. She highlighted and revealed to us the hidden layers beneath our cities - layers without which our streets would never drain and dry! Together, Yvonne and Genevieve discussed the contemporary practices and conditions within which our urban environments function and are built.

After their presentation, the floor opened up for conversation, where several students asked questions about both specific aspects of the projects discussed, and about the larger implications of designing with massive infrastructural systems in a changing environment. This talk gave us a new understanding of how our cities grow and the challenges we face as our environments change more and more rapidly. After it falls, the rain flows through our cities, sometimes slowly, sometimes fast, but always moving.

Bridge Waterloo