Nourisher of life and Bearer of Meaning
Water is a precious good. The ancient Romans were already well aware of this fact, as they made huge investments in labour-intensive and complex infrastructures to replenish their cities with fresh water. The immensely water-consuming baths, then, belonged as much to Roman culture as the carefully staged simulations of naval battles in ancient arenas. In their hands, water became an instrument of power demonstrating to citizens and non-citizens alike Rome’s dominant role in the world and, more generally, civilisation’s triumph over nature.
Thus, water has many qualities and serves many purposes. It has no unidimensional, straightforward meaning but is hugely complex in its significance for our understanding of present and past societies. Water can be described in terms of its physical properties, that is, measured, analysed and qualified by scientific methods. It has also a symbolic dimension that points to its deep embeddedness in human culture. Water has been made subject of the current debates about climate change and the global distribution of natural resources. Present-day research, amongst other things, focuses on how communities can be protected from cataclysmic events, how water movement can be transformed into green energy, and how agriculture can make best use of available water reserves. At the same time, water’s key role in sustaining life is equally reflected in philosophy, literature, and religion where it appears as symbol of origin and purity pointing to transformation, profundity and the unconscious.
Istituto Svizzero invites to a reflection about water, focusing on its cultural and scientific significance and the challenges that we face as a society in our use of natural resources. The event articulates itself in two parts: a scientific conference approaching the topic from different angles is complemented with a water treatment system—designed and constructed by the Zurich University of Applied Sciences—that provides insight into the process of turning grey water into quality-controlled drinking water.
In collaboration with the Zurich University of Applied Sciences.
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