Setting a benchmark

Jul 11, 2013, 07:40 IST | Kanika Sharma

Now, as you sit in the rain on a Neville Mars-designed Water Bench at Horniman Circle Gardens, you might also be storing water. This talented architect from the Guggenheim Lab has installed Water Benches across Mumbai, his ingenious rainwater harvesting idea

Bulbous, rotund and sprouted like mushrooms in the lush green of this pouring season; we beckon you to go out and take a stroll at Horniman Circle and Cross Maidan today to see what we are talking about. You’ll find dark grey upholstered benches more appropriately termed, Water Benches which are a unique solution to the common grouse echoed by ST Coleridge “Water, water, everywhere; Nor any drop to drink”. BMW Guggenheim Lab, the popular global project that involves interdisciplinary professionals and artists has just gifted Mumbai a unique urban solution that will adorn many of our public spaces.

Two strollers enjoying the verdant Cross Maidan while sitting on a Water Bench

What a bench!
Neville Mars, the architect behind this ingenious idea, shares, “The Water Bench is hollow. This allows the Chesterfield cushions that we have moulded in plastic to funnel water to the buttons, which act as water inlets. This offers a comfortable slightly bouncy seating area with the added benefit that the surface is dry almost immediately after each rainfall.” Mulling over the bumbling design, Mars clarifies, “The size of the bench is intentionally awkward, encouraging up to three people on either side to interact and converse.”

Water Benches which harvest water are being installed at Horniman Circle.  Pic/ Suresh KK

Already, the first benches have been installed at Horniman Circle Garden and Cross Maidan; Mars adds, “This gentle form of social encouragement works quite well. Other parks with very different and unique qualities including Bandra’s Joggers Park and Lotus Park, Mankhurd in M Ward, are coming up next.” City issues such as urban development, traffic, architecture and housing have had their fair share of attention, Mars opines, “Water is the most obvious great connector (for these issues). We found that even the increasingly large water infrastructure, pumping in from reservoirs ever further removed from the city, is not able to keep up with demand.”

Architect Neville Mars

Local is cool
Relying on local conditions and structures, Mars comments, “We developed several concepts that expand into larger systems. Rainwater harvesting was a particularly obvious choice as the regulations are already in place and the monsoon in Mumbai, at least in theory, are a sufficient annual source. The challenge is how to store water. These were the first considerations that led us to develop the Water Bench.”

While sitting on these cushy reservoirs, Mars urges you to contemplate on the design, “A full Water Bench contains an above and an underground tank. Together the storage capacity of up to 1,000 litres is suited for the local precipitation. It makes for an ideal standalone installation for small plots and private gardens.”

Linking it with the countless inventive solutions that have resulted from the Lab, Mars shares, “We have always considered the Water Bench as part of a larger group of water conservation solutions: smart wells, ecological sanitation, use of indigenous vegetation (as opposed to large lawns), even small-scale solar powered seawater desalination.

These solutions work to lower demand, increase supply and create buffers to minimise the impact of floods and droughts. Together, they complete the traditional infrastructure and make for a more resilient and flexible water management system.” 

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