Columbia Design Challenge: Urban Water

Dec 01 2015


For teams that were not able to make a live pitch on December 8, a YouNoodle platform is now open. Teams should upload a five-minute video and a slide deck. Please refer to the pitch template below. In the video, please introduce your team, describe the problem you are trying solve, your proposed solution and what materials, facilities and other resources you would need.

This platform will be open to accept pitches through Monday, January 4, 2016 at midnight EST.

About the Columbia Design Challenge

In a coordinated urban scale study, the Columbia Urban Design program will be studying the urban landscape of Rio with a focus on the Rio Paraiba do Sul river valley during their Spring semester design studio (January to June 2016). Students will investigate operative potential of scale as a strategy and develop a multi-scalar, ecological framework for designing the architecture, cities, and landscapes of the future. GSAPP and SEAS student design teams could potentially collaborate, incorporating and testing concepts from the Urban Water Design Challenge within the framework of their proposed urban design interventions in Rio. For more information, contact Kate Orff, [email protected].

Design Challenge Co-sponsors

Other sponsors to be announced.

Columbia Engineering and The Columbia Global Center | Rio de Janeiro launched a design challenge on December 7 focused around bringing innovative engineering, planning, and policy solutions to the multi-faceted challenge of urban water. Interdisciplinary teams will consider devising solutions to challenges of access, distribution and storage of water and its quality; challenges around collection and treatment of wastewater; challenges around addressing effects of extreme weather causing floods and mudslides.

We invite students, postdocs, faculty, and staff from all schools to participate.

The goal of the design challenge is to produce a viable design-concept (could include a rough prototype, if possible) to win continued support toward development of an interdisciplinary technology-driven solution that could potentially be presented in Rio in March 2016.

Rio de Janeiro, “the Marvelous City,” is a world-class metropolis, well-known for its beautiful beaches, annual Carnival celebration, and its upcoming role as host of the 2016 Summer Olympics. Along with all that Rio has in its favor, it faces some challenges as well. Like many other cities, Rio is challenged to provide its residents and businesses with clean water through access to reliable systems for distribution and storage, adequate systems to collect and treat wastewater, and responses to extreme weather events that cause flooding and landslides.

Factors to consider about Rio de Janeiro:

  • there is high demand for water resources for industry, agriculture, irrigation, hydroelectric energy generation, and public supply
  • there is a high rate of water system leakage (Rio loses 58% of its water to leakages; 15% of the city’s total water supply is lost to illegal connections; Source: Latin American Green City Index, Siemens)
  • 77% of wastewater is collected, but only 51% is treated, leading to pollution of waterways due to untreated sewage, which in turn causes public health issues (Source: Ministry of Cities, 2011)
  • water-related disasters are a constant issue (floods, landslides, and displacement)
  • contamination of drinking water threatens the health of residents (particularly in Rio's informal favela communities)
  • standing water contributes to mosquito-borne illness and mold-related property damage

For more information about the design challenge, please contact SEAS Director of Strategic Initiatives, Paula Anzer, [email protected].

The design challenge will be organized as follows:

Monday, December 7

11:00 AM – 12:30 PM

Davis Auditorium
CEPSR 412 (Schapiro Building; Center for Engineering and Physical Science Research)

Watch the Urban Water Design Challenge kickoff:

Columbia Design Challenge: Urban Water— Discussion Forum Presentations

Download the presentations:


12:30 PM – 1:00 PM

Pizza and refreshments provided outside Davis Auditorium

1:00 PM – 4:00 PM

Rooms to be announced

Teaming sessions organized around specific challenge topics, resulting in preliminary design/policy/planning concepts.

The discussion and design sessions of this design challenge are considered Columbia-only and do not constitute Public Disclosure. By attending these proceedings, you agree to treat all subject matter related to solutions to the issues discussed or described during the proceedings—whether in the form of conversations, presentations, or otherwise—as confidential.

Tuesday, December 8

11:00 AM – 2:00 PM

Mudd, Room 520

Pitch sessions—two-minute pitches to a panel of Columbia and external experts who will provide feedback on early design/policy/planning concepts and select teams for continuing development and implementation.
Sign up to pitch (Not all team members need to be present to pitch)
Download the pitch template

Wednesday, December 9

Selected teams continue to refine initial designs; begin implementation of proposals; order and purchase materials as needed for prototyping of selected pitches; continue iteration of designs. Partial support—both resources and advising—will be available to kickstart designs deemed promising during Tuesday’s expert pitch events.

Friday, January 15

10:00 AM – 1:00 PM

Mudd, Room 520
Milestone check-in

Friday, February 5, 2016

1:30 PM – 4:30 PM

Fayerweather, Room 200S (behind Avery Hall)

Week of March 14, 2016

Representatives of selected finalist teams invited to present in Rio as part of an exhibition event open to the public. The Mayor of Rio de Janeiro will also attend.

If you have any interest in patenting anything you build at this event, or if you have any questions about IP more generally, we encourage you to check out the FAQs for Students or email [email protected]. Merely participating in the Design Challenge and using the limited funds provided by the Design Challenge would not be considered “significant use” under clause 4 of the FAQs for Students.

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