In addition to impossibly petite mobile micro-homes, a whole lot of intriguing concepts and conversations have emerged from the first two-year, three-city cycle of the BMW Guggenheim Lab. Now, 100 of these city-centric “major themes and ideas” have been wrangled up and curated as part of “Participatory City: 100 Urban Trends from the BMW Guggenheim Lab,” a special exhibition that opened today at New York City's Guggenheim Museum and will be running through the beginning of next year. 

Revolving around the theme of Confronting Comfort, the traveling (NYC, Mumbai, and Berlin) urban think tank-cum-community center-cum-public gathering space otherwise known as the BMW Guggenheim Lab explored “how urban environments can be made more responsive to people’s needs, how people can feel more at ease in urban environments, and how to find a balance between notions of modern comfort and the urgent need for environmental and social responsibility” through a series of free projects and programs.

While the Lab unleashed an overwhelming amount of provocative ideas during its travels, I keep on going back to one particular concept that will be shown as part of “Participatory City” and also be treated to its own special event/lecture at the Guggenheim on December 5: Water Bench, a rainwater-harvesting public seating arrangement that was borne from the Lab’s Mumbai stopover. Also known as Dubble Bench, this Chesterfield-inspired communal seat is made from partially recycled polyethylene, and, thanks to (an) integrated rainwater storage tank(s), can store as much as 1,800 liters (475 gallons) of H2O for later use.

Conceived by Dutch-born, Shanghai-based architect, urbanist, and Lab team Member Neville Mars of MARS Architects, the modular Water Bench is an intriguing/ingenious concept geared specifically for public use in large cities with subtropical climates. However, I can totally envision it as a rather attractive, multipurpose substitute for the suburban backyard rain barrel.

Designed to “create the atmosphere of an urban living room within the public realm” with the goal of liberating parks and public spaces from municipal water supplies, the surface of the Water Bench “has been realized with a tufted effect, an aesthetic of the eighteenth-century-style, whereby the grooves and seams guide the water to the buttons which in turn function as water inlets that lead to tanks inside the hollow bench. As it collects the rain, it also reduces moisture and ensures the surface remains dry for sitting.”

Nifty. Mars has envisioned the Water Bench as coming in three sizes: A dual-tank (one in the bench itself and the other underground) fixed model with a 1,800 liter capacity that geared toward public parks and playgrounds; a medium-sized dual-reservoir model for public gardens and greenhouses that boasts 1,000 (264 gallon) liter storage capacity; and a small unit sans an underground tank that’s capable of storing 500 liters of rainwater. The small, moveable model would be appropriate for private gardens. When you need to access the water, simply attach a pump to the built-in tap and you're good to go.

As mentioned, the Water Bench is designed for placement in subtropical climates meaning that it will see a lot of harvesting action during the monsoon season. During the 8-month dry spell that follows, the rainwater captured within the Water Bench can be used to irrigate vegetation.

In addition to the first Water Benches being installed at parks across Mumbai, a model will be installed at the Guggenheim for public seating through the run of “Participatory Cities. If you’re in New York, be sure to stop by the Guggenheim and give it spin while also checking out the other 99 city-revolutionizing ideas to come out of the BMW Guggenheim Lab. And to hear Mars himself explain “the science behind his design, his process for creating the prototype, and his vision for installing the Water Bench in cities worldwide,” remember to snag a ticket for his lecture on Dec. 5.

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Water Bench: A two-in-one rainwater harvester and snazzy outdoor seat
Showing as part of BMW Guggenheim Lab's 'Participatory City' exhibition in New York, Neville Mars' Water Bench is an ingenious method of collecting rainwater.