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Águas de Março
Marc J. Neveu
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Water has always been integral to the development of societies. Most early cultures from Mesopotamia to the Indus Valley and the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers evolved and developed around water sources. A city such as Mohenjo Daro, for example, was literally built around the movement of water and included sewerage systems (two thousand years before Rome). Sediment from water bodies helped to sustain riverine ecosystems and supported the growth of crops. Over time, this use of water has evolved into what Martin Heidegger referred to as standing reserve. Water is now a resource commodified within our technological worldview. The worldwide damming of waterways, the construction of levees, and the massive industrialization of agriculture have forever altered the landscape, and these acts quite clearly demonstrate our collective understanding of water as a resource to be mined, controlled, and commodified. Indeed, water management determines the development of cities and is often questioned in the wake of “natural” disasters. It is also clear, however, that the engineering forming cities such as New Orleans and Houston has also led to the devastation of those cities from what otherwise would have been typical weather events.

According to the World Health Organization, half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas by 2025. Presently, at least two billion people globally use a drinking water source contaminated with feces. This is shocking, even more so when we consider our everyday practice of drinking bottled water and defecating into fresh tap water. This not only adds plastics to our landfills and oceans but also reveals the perversity of our relationship with water and the built environment. Most people reading this introduction can, with relatively little effort, turn on a tap and fill a glass of water, bathe or shower, and prepare a meal. Rarely do we consider the ease with which we interact with, and use, water. Only when our system of clean water distribution breaks down, such as recently in Newark, New Jersey and Flint, Michigan do we realize how dependent we really are on fresh water. Still, our relationship with water is complex.

Each February, residents of Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, dress in white and offer gifts to Iemanjá, the candomblé orixá (goddess) of the sea. Gifts range from flowers to perfume and food. One of the central deities, Iemanjá is often depicted as a plus-sized beautiful black woman dressed in blue and white. She is maternal, protecting fertility and all aspects of the sea, including a fruitful fishing catch. Bringing together people from a variety of beliefs—Catholics and members of the candomblé, as well as locals and tourists—the ritual transforms what is normally a public beach into sacred space. A month later the waters of March bring an end to the summer and a much-needed natural resource.A goddess of the ocean might be obvious in a port city like Salvador, especially given that city’s history and relationship to both Africa and Europe. In the Sonoran Desert, a water god might be a bit less apparent. Water is, however, at the core of Diné Bahane’, the Navajo creation myth. Tó Neinilii, the god of rain, is often described as a trickster and one who is pleased when an unexpected rain disrupts events. Keeping this in mind has completely changed the way I watch an August monsoon rain roll through the valley, here in Phoenix.

Historically, all cultures have done two things; we tell stories, and we build. Both allow us to understand our place on Earth. Figures such as Iemanjá and Tó Neinilii have helped us to make sense of an unpredictable world—why it rains and how much fish we catch. Today, many of us carry a phone that can tell us exactly where all the fish are, how much water came down when last it rained, and when the next rain event will occur. Technology has become our mythology, and through it, we participate in an array of bizarre rituals. Given this context, as architects and educators, how might we reframe our relationship to water and the built environment? Can water be both a resource and source of reverie?

É o mistério profundo,

é o queira ou não queira …

São as águas de março fechando o verão.

Editor’s Note: After additional editorial review, we are happy to be able to include an Opinion essay by Judi Shade Monk, originally planned for the previous issue, in this issue.

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