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business models, strategies and technologies

Building gone natural, in a water treatment cathedral

Buildings don’t have to look like buildings in order to succeed or delight. Oppenheim Architecture has moulded a Swiss waterworks cathedral …

I’ve spent many ýears writing about different kinds of technology – including pumps, filters, dehumidifiers and separation technologies – used in waterworks and water treatment facilities. And I’ve also spent many years drooling over gorgeous architecture – often ecclesiastical. It’s not often these worlds meet. But …

Non-building building

In Muttenz, Switzerland, Oppenheim Architecture has been responsible for coating a water treatment plant with a sprayed-on mixture of concrete and local clay, so that it looks more like a natural formation – sculpted and eroded by flows of water – than a man-made building. It’s designed to be self-cleaning and for nature to take over, so it’ll only ever need minimal maintenance on its ever-changing surfaces. This remarkable design was included on the shortlist for the World Architecture Festival Awards 2017.

The architects have changed the traditional building narrative. The structure’s shapes flow – rounded, textured and earthy. The interiors – framing the water treatment installations – are atmospheric, echoing with flowing and dripping water so that the building’s educational gallery and visitors’ spaces seem almost cathedral-like.

Couldn’t find who took this evocative picture but there are other good ones here

Timelessness or playful populism

There are many designs for water and sewage treatment plants (and other utilities) that try to look beyond their function. In Scandinavia, one of the better-known is the artificial ski slope on the sloping roof of the Amager Bakke waste-to-power incinerator plant near Copenhagen (also labelled the Copenhill urban mountain).

By contrast with the timelessness of the Muttenz water treatment plant, Copenhill seems more like a fairground novelty – probably only fun, fashionable and commercially viable for a relatively short time. In a world being upended by climate change and turbulent patterns of consumer behaviour, skiing probably isn’t an activity with the most dependable future …