Jenna Witzleben

MFA Thesis Blog

This blog contains experiments, project and reading reflections, unanswered questions, and more relating to my year-long thesis as part of my Master's design program. From Sept. 2016 to May 2017, I explored rewilding human beings and the environments we inhabit at multiple scales including investigation around individual fears of nature, regional food production systems, and global overpopulation. The final works of this thesis can be found in my portfolio.

Rain: A Natural and Cultural History

In this book, Cynthia Barnett illustrates the long history and complexity of our human relationship to rain. 

Image Source: Business Insider

Image Source: Business Insider

We've become so distanced from our reliance on the rain because of our unseen pipe systems and industrialized agriculture but in reality rain has a huge impact on our modern systems. In South and East Asia, the "failure of the monsoon can crash markets, spike food prices, provoke suicides, trigger energy shortages, and swing national elections." Beyond this, we could not inhabit this earth without the rain. It is a large contributor to what makes our planet habitable.

Image Source: Farmaid.org

Image Source: Farmaid.org

And yet in generally moderate areas of rain, where the is usually little drought nor perilous monsoons, places that "have it good" in terms of rain, people hide from it under umbrellas. This compared to, once again, South East Asia where monsoon season is accompanied by festivals, songs, and dancing in puddles. Barnett speaks of the umbrella poetically and positively. I disagree. To me, umbrellas symbolize a distaste for rain. Instead, the rain should be celebrated. The only types of rain that require an umbrella, in my opinion, are polluted or acid rain (also discussed in this book). But the more we learn to appreciate and work with the rain, the less of an issue polluted or acid rain will become.

Loi Krathong

Loi Krathong

Which leads me to another important topic in this book of runoff. Our urban environments are not designed for the rain (or natural elements in general, really). So we end up polluting and misusing the water we are getting in cities locally, and having to import cleaner water from somewhere else. This is hugely inefficient and wasteful. Not to mention harmful to the ecosystems where this water eventually ends up. 

Image Source: PBS

Image Source: PBS

In some cases there have been designs where rain isn't blocked out completely. Barnett exemplifies Frank Lloyd Wright's buildings, which apparently all leaked due to his love of the rain and desire for people to "feel its drama." I like the example of the recent Cornell Architecture grad, Walmir Luz, who designed a speculative future urban plan for NYC that embraces water and flooding as part of NYC's future. His design includes green spaces and marshes within Manhattan, and further modes for water to move through the city.

Image Source: Business Insider

Image Source: Business Insider

Luz looks at water in NYC as a system, which is why is it a more successful approach. Anytime we are regarding rain, we need to be aware of its systemic nature - not just within a water system in a city, but as a larger meteorological system as well. Changes in one location, intentional or not, can impact another location downwind. 

Jenna Witzleben