Fragile Water exhibition highlights vulnerability of water resources

Water resources are limited and vulnerable in many places in the world. Design students and water researchers joined forces to visualise sustainable water solutions in the Fragile Water exhibition.
Chiao-Wen Hsu: Eaten Water Photo Anne Kinnunen
Chiao-Wen Hsu: Eaten Water. Humans ‘eat’ much more water than we think. Besides drinking, bathing and cleaning, food production accounts for 92% of human water consumption, of which meat production is the largest consumer. (Photo: Anne Kinnunen)

Freshwater resources around the globe are increasingly endangered by agriculture and pollution. ‘Today, 90% of freshwater used by humans goes for food production,’ explains Assistant professor Matti Kummu from Aalto School of Engineering. ‘Humans greatly influence fragile aquatic ecosystems: water problems are closely connected to political and societal systems. In our Water and Development Research Group, we want to raise awareness about sustainable water use and develop solutions for freshwater-related problems.’

Matti Kummu's team studies the impact of human activities on water resources. Five viewpoints on global and local fresh water resources were used as a starting point for explorative designs which will be displayed at the Helsinki Airport in 2019. The resulting visualisations of water solutions were made possible through collaboration between five water researchers and 17 design students.

Glass Challenge workshop Photo: Anne Kinnunen
Contemporary design students and water researchers discuss water-related topics at the kick-off workshop of Glass Challenge course. Photo: Anne Kinnunen

How can art and design advocate for more a sustainable future?

‘Understanding water scarcity and the impact of our actions is the first step to a more sustainable future. The exhibition makes us think about our daily use of water. We explored the sustainability of water in our Glass Challenge course,’ explains designer-in-residence Enni Äijälä, who has been supervising the exhibition design. Äijälä coordinates the university-wide design Design Inside initiative, which develops creative cross-disciplinary design across all six Aalto schools.

Johanna Laakso, head of customer experience development at Finavia, which hosts the exhibit at the airport, explains they are aiming at exceptional passenger experience when passengers wait for their luggage. ‘We hope the exhibition makes passengers feel welcome to Finland. It showcases the high-level of education we have here and offers some food for thought regarding sustainability. Water in its all forms is vital for airports as well and the aspect of sustainability is very important for Finavia, too.’

Iines Jakovlev: Hidden Lake Photo: Anne Kinnunen
Iines Jakovlev: Hidden Lake. When you look at a lake all you see is a reflection of the surroundings. Not the lake itself. (Photo: Anne Kinnunen)

Unexpected outcomes feed imagination

The six-week Glass Challenge course was led by glass artist and lecturer Kirsti Taiviola. ‘It is truly amazing to see how 17 students approach the same task and come up with completely different solutions and perspectives,’ Taiviola says.

Johanna Laakso was delighted about the final works by students. ‘There were 17 very interesting and versatile presentations from eye-opening facts, like how producing a cup of coffee hides 140 litres of water, to beautiful glass artefacts inspired by water. And let’s not  forget that in Finland natural waters are so pure that you can still fill your glass straight from a lake.’

The greatest challenge for the course was that most of the students had no previous experience of working with glass as a material. ‘Glass is not easy to work with, and I am really proud that each student managed to come up with a concept idea and successfully translate it into a three-dimensional physical object,’ says Taiviola.

‘What we want to do is to combine cutting-edge design with excellent research. It is incredibly valuable that Finavia provides us an exhibition space that can potentially reach millions of passengers. I hope this explorative cooperation between water researchers and designers will also spark new projects that could combine engineering and design in new ways to meet global sustainability challenges,’ Äijälä says.

‘Water is an interesting and multifaceted phenomenon to look at. We often take it for granted. This course made it clear how important and relevant topic it really is,’ Taiviola adds.

Fragile Water exhibition

The exhibition Fragile Water brings attention to our use of water. Glass as a fragile material symbolises the fragility of the global freshwater resources. Fragile Water can be seen in Baggage Claim Hall 2B where passengers arriving from Asia, America and non-Schengen countries collect their baggage. The exhibition is open from 23 January 2019 until the end of year.

Themes and students:

1.    Hidden water in food (mentor: PhD Candidate Pekka Kinnunen)

  • Milla Vainio - From liquid to liquid
  • Chiao-wen Hsu - Eaten water
  • Mariana Solís Escalera - Encapsulated

2.    Where is the water? (mentor: PhD Candidate Hafsa Munia)

  • Henna Nuutinen - Unknown Water
  • Paul Flanders - Libation Vessels
  • Hanna Kutvonen - It’s not fair
  • Cassandra - Sharpening edges

3.    Endangered rivers (Mentor: Postdoctoral Researcher Kaisa Västilä)

  • Iines Jakovlev - Hidden Lake  
  • Niina Hyry - Sea Sick Sea
  • Tuuli Saarelainen – Frost
  • Jaea Chang - Glass Lake  

4.     Urban water (Mentor: PhD Candidate Ambika Khadka)

  • Aino Tuovinen - Convenience diffuser
  • Nina Sevä - Force of Water  
  • Christal Hedman - Flow

5. Circular Water (Mentor PhD Candidate Juho Kaljunen)

  • Tzuye Chen – Crackled
  • Kaisa Jäntti – Precious
  • Emile Bajard - Aware


Lecturer: Kirsti Taiviola

Exhibition design: Sushant Passi  

Graphic design: Lin Pei-Yu  

Project coordination: Enni Äijälä, Matti Kummu, Tiina Toivola, Outi Turpeinen, Gianluca Giabardo  


Will there be enough water in the future? Interactive map shows water scarcity globally

Water Scarcity Atlas is a freely available educational tool to help us all make more sustainable choices in day-to-day life.

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Water Scarcity Map of the World
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