Water as a Social Catalyst

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  • Title: Water as a Social Catalyst: The Impact of Water Features on Urban Life
  • Author(s): Tatjana Leblanc, Noëmie Candau, Maxime Leblanc
  • Publisher: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Collection: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Series: Design Principles & Practices
  • Journal Title: The International Journal of Architectonic, Spatial, and Environmental Design
  • Keywords: Industrial Design, Water Features, Urban Life, Human Scale, Public Space
  • Volume: 13
  • Issue: 2
  • Year: 2019
  • ISSN: 2325-1662 (Print)
  • ISSN: 2325-1670 (Online)
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.18848/2325-1662/CGP/v13i02/1-16
  • Citation: Leblanc, Tatjana , Noëmie Candau, and Maxime Leblanc. 2019. "Water as a Social Catalyst: The Impact of Water Features on Urban Life." The International Journal of Architectonic, Spatial, and Environmental Design 13 (2): 1-16. doi:10.18848/2325-1662/CGP/v13i02/1-16.
  • Extent: 16 pages


Climate change affects many large cities and the phenomenon is amplified by the densification of urban centers and the reduction of green spaces. The impermeable infrastructures create urban heat islands, which deteriorate the urban living conditions even further. The importance of re-introducing nature is undeniable and many designers and architects are searching for innovative solutions. Vertical forest and green roofs are some of the promising trends that have gained global interest. However, considerably less attention is being paid to the role of water in the urban place, water fountains, storm water management, and the design of more sustainable infrastructures. This article takes a closer look at the impact of water on urban life, focusing on its ability to attract people and animate public spaces. Two popular water structures—one in London, UK, the other in Montreal, Canada—have been studied in terms of their integration into the urban landscape, their relationship to the surrounding architecture, human interactions, and multi-sensory user experience. Jan Gehl’s work helped assess the key findings and guide the subsequent design process, which aimed at designing innovative urban artefacts capable of enriching urban living conditions. The design research involved studying the evolution of water structures, analyzing existing solutions, and observing user interactions. The gained insight would allow designers to understand the challenges and develop more sustainable design concepts that promote the use of eco-friendly materials. The research-driven approach led to innovative design proposals that have the potential to address the problems, improve the quality of life, and foster sociability in the public place.