Water is everywhere before it is somewhere. It is in rain before it is in rivers, it soaks before it flows, it spreads before it gathers, it blurs before it clarifies. These are waters at moments in the hydrological cycle that are not easy to picture in maps or contain within lines. It is ephemeral, transient, uncertain, interstitial, chaotic, omnipresent. It is water to which people are increasingly turning to find innovative solutions to water scarcity, pollution, aquifer depletion and other problems that are assuming center stage in local and global politics, dynamics, and fears. It is also water that is celebrated and ritualized in ordinary and everyday practices across many cultures.

It is surely not a coincidence that the turn to these waters, that resist the figure and the frame, is occurring when design disciplines are beginning to embrace measures such as flexibility, agility, and resilience, measures more closely associated with a watery imagination, while becoming circumspect of aspirations like prediction and control encouraged by a terra firma, aspirations that have proved elusive, perhaps even detrimental. This is after all a time of uncertainty and ambiguity brought on by increasing openness of economies, cultures, and ecologies.

Is this time of water and watery imagination a moment to re-invent our relationship with water? Is it a time to look to the past, present and future and ask if in seeing water somewhere rather than everywhere we have missed opportunities, practices and lessons that could inform and transform the design project?  What role has representation and visualization played in confining water on terra firma? Can we look at projects in history and projects emerging today – cities, infrastructures, buildings, landscapes, artworks – with a cultivated eye for water that rains, soaks, spreads, and blurs?

What is it to see water as not within, adjoining, serving or threatening settlement, but the ground of settlement? Is this the basis of a new vocabulary of place, history, ecology and other fields that inform the design process?  And can the field of design by virtue of its ability to articulate and re-visualize lead in constructing this new vocabulary?