Water Quality

While issues of water quality are often seen as a large-scale problem for engineers and planners, designers working in landscape and architecture have a significant role to play.  It is critical to understand that the quality of water is not only determined by the presence or absence of contaminants, but also by temperature, presence or absence of valuable nutrients and minerals, and even the speed of flow or current.  

Why is Water Quality Important? 

Ecosystems and the organisms within them affect and are affected by water quality.  Changes to a healthy water quality regime – or to the surrounding ecosystem – almost always result in detrimental, trickle-down impacts. 

For example, numerically minor changes to ocean temperature, salinity, and pH balance brought about by global warming have been responsible for major bleaching events of coral, to the extent that some experts believe the unique reef ecosystems they uphold may disappear within our lifetime1.   

Along the pacific coast of North America, research has shown that overfishing may not be the prime culprit in the depletion and destruction of local salmon fisheries.  Rather, 200 years of colonial industry, damming, forestry, and agriculture with insufficient regulation have contaminated, blocked, rerouted, increased water temperature, and introduced significant sediment loads to watersheds, upsetting the delicate habitat that salmon require to spawn2

For humans, fresh water is one of the most valuable resources in the world.  We rely on potable, fresh water not just for our life, health and hygiene, but also for industry, technology, and agriculture.  A key global indicator of wealth and poverty – and in turn, of marginalization and power – is the level of access to clean drinking water (see The Ethics of Water).  Billions of dollars and significant amounts of energy are spent each year on active purification of water for drinking, usually through complex, engineered systems of varying scales.   

Landscape Architects and Architects have a responsibility to design spaces that contribute to ideal water quality for humans and the ecosystems in which we inhabit. 

1. Moseman, “What Would Happen If We Lost All Coral Reefs?”

2. Lichatowich, Salmon without Rivers: A History of the Pacific Salmon Crisis.

What factors contribute to water quality reduction? 

Reduction in water quality can be caused by numerous factors.  The following examples are not exhaustive but provide a starting point for inquiry into a site’s water quality history. 

Contamination: For Designers, contamination by human sources is one of the most critical concerns.  Water is one of the primary vehicles by which contaminants spread from a single source location.  Gas stations, dry cleaners, mechanics, industrial facilities, agriculture, and resource extraction operations are well-known producers of water-born contaminants; however, research has shown that roadways, home cleaning supplies, and lawncare contributes significantly to a watershed’s contaminant load1.  See the following table for a list of water-borne contaminants associated with likely sources. 

One of the most typical contaminant sources in urban areas is the sewer system.  For thousands of years, humans have used rivers and tides to carry away human waste, and despite technological advancement, many sewer systems today are outdated and under stress from population growth.  Combined storm-sewer systems often have emergency outfalls in oceans, rivers, or lakes.  In rainfall or flooding events that overload the water treatment facility, these outfalls discharge an untreated mixture of contaminated runoff and sewage into these natural waterways causing catastrophic outcomes. 

Nutrient levels: nutrient levels in bodies of water must be balanced according to the needs of the ecosystem.  Nutrient depletion can occur when activity around a watershed prevents some sort of typical nutrient input.  Overabundance of nutrients, also called eutrophication, can occur when activity around a watershed adds additional nutrient inputs to the system.  One common cause of eutrophication in watersheds is high-intensity agriculture, wherein nitrogen and phosphorous applied to fields as fertilizer make their way through run-off into surrounding water bodies.  Another cause is human or animal waste finding its way into waterways from septic systems, livestock farms, and water treatment facilities.  A typical sign of eutrophication in water is the presence of algae blooms, which feed on overabundant nutrients and can in turn wreak havoc on aquatic ecosystems. 

Oxygen: Dissolved oxygen in water is critical for the health of aquatic organisms.  After algae blooms caused by eutrophication, decomposing algae is fed on by bacteria that can quickly use up dissolved oxygen.  Water with resulting very low oxygen levels is called hypoxic2. Oxygen is dissolved in water through surface water movement and the release of oxygen from aquatic plants performing photosynthesis3.  Damming or channeling of moving water, or removal of aquatic plants can also reduce oxygen levels 

Sediment Loads: Disturbance in riparian areas due to resource extraction, development, and agriculture can result in watersheds being choked by sediment.  Many aquatic organisms rely on specific balances of sediment for habitat, sunlight, visibility, food sources, and reproduction, and changes to these balances can be catastrophic.  Sediment in flowing water also has the potential to carry contaminants long distances from sources before releasing them4

Temperature change: Water temperature is a very important aspect of ecosystem balance.  Small changes of water temperature over short time scales can even result in ecosystem collapse.  These temperature changes can occur as a result of global warming, heat waves, and sediment loads.  A major culprit in increased water temperature in streams and rivers is the reduction of shade from trees and other plants in riparian areas that leave shallow water exposed to direct sun for longer portions of the day. (Bowler et al. 2012) 

1. Kennen and Kirkwood, Phyto: Principles and Resources for Site Remediation and Landscape Design.

2. “Nutrients and Eutrophication.”

3. Marcy et al., “Dissolved Oxygen.”

4. Canada, “Water Pollution.”

5. Bowler et al., “What Are the Effects of Wooded Riparian Zones on Stream Temperature?”

What factors contribute to remediation? 

In many cases, landscape architects and architects must actively remediate existing contaminants and contaminant sources through design.  Even small-scale projects can have a significant impact on the health of watersheds and coastal ecosystems (see precedents below).  The following strategies, among others, are at a designer’s disposal: 

Mechanical filtration: This is the most common method used to prevent contaminants, especially larger, visible contaminants, from entering water bodies or drinking water.  There are hundreds of filtration systems used in applications from rainwater management to pool filtration.  Sediment traps, which can be manufactured elements or simple depressions in the landscape are used in rainwater management to prevent large debris and silt in run-off from entering the watershed.  Sand and activated charcoal filters are commonly used in pools and water treatment facilities to filter out suspended particles and organic compounds.  Membrane filtration is often used in drinking water treatment and wastewater treatment as it is also able to remove bacteria and viruses. 

Phytoremediation: The use of plants to clean water and soil, or phytoremediation, has seen renewed interest in recent years.  Research has shown that certain plants have unique abilities to extract, store, and even disable contaminants.  Typical applications include bioswales and engineered wetlands, where specific plant combinations are selected to filter out contaminants from urban runoff.  Phytoremediation can also be applied more specifically, by understanding the contaminants present on site and selecting plants that are uniquely suited to manage those specific compounds or elements.  Additional reading in Phyto: Principles and Resources for Site Remediation and Landscape Design1 is highly recommended as a starting point to understand this complex yet promising new area of research.   

Phytoremediation is also a present factor in the burgeoning field of natural swimming pools.  Here, aquatic plants are used alongside mechanical filtration systems to re-cycle pool water, removing contaminants and particles along the way without the use of harmful chemicals such as chlorine2

Purification: purification of water is usually only required when the water must be potable.  To purify water, chemicals or additional processes are introduced alongside mechanical filtration to ensure contaminants and microscopic organisms are removed.  Many of the chemicals used to improve the quality of drinking water are contaminants themselves when released into natural systems, highlighting that water quality is always relative according to context. 

1. Kennen and Kirkwood, Phyto: Principles and Resources for Site Remediation and Landscape Design.

2. HCMA, “Natural Swimming Pools: The Future of Public Swimming without Chlorine.”

What factors contribute to maintaining good water quality? 

On all sites, including those that are not contaminated, landscape architects and architects have a responsibility to do no harm to existing water quality through their work. The following strategies should be employed in the design process: 

Understanding water regime: It is critical that designers have a thorough understanding of the way water moves above, at, and below grade at – and around – each unique site.  During preliminary design, the impact of interventions on the water regime should be examined.   

Respecting Riparian Areas: If a given site is located close to a body of water, riparian ecological areas should be protected or enhanced.  Most jurisdictions have extensive requirements associated with development alongside water bodies that aim to protect water quality and surrounding ecosystems.  In many cases, designers will work alongside registered environmental professionals and biologists to ensure that their work complies.  Protection of existing vegetation or planting of additional vegetation along streams is particularly important, as plants help shade shallow water, provide habitat for the prey of aquatic animals, maintain bank stability, and reduce sediment levels in runoff. 

Preventing spread of waterborne contaminants: Though a site may not contain water-borne contaminants, it is important to take steps to ensure that any contaminants from surrounding sites, future contamination, or novel sources are not able to pass through.  Vegetation cover is particularly useful for preventing the spread of unexpected contamination into ground water.  Green roofs and bioswales filter surface run-off for potential contaminants from roofing materials and paved surfaces.  Certain trees such as poplars have a high transpiration rate and deep roots, which can slow and lessen the flow of groundwater that has the potential to carry contaminants.  Otherwise, simply managing water at grade rather than in pipes below ground helps maintain visibility of water on site (see Rainwater Management), leading to easier discovery of possible contaminants. 

Ensuring optimal oxygen and nutrient levels:  Certain aquatic ecosystems require specific oxygen and nutrient levels, and there are many methods by which environmental designers can increase or decrease these levels through intervention and maintenance plans.  For example, if oxygen levels are low, introducing aquatic plants (ensure these are not invasive), installing bubblers and fountains, or designing waterfalls and rapids can increase levels to a healthy point.  If nutrient levels in a pond are too high, consider maintenance regimes that reduce the amount of decomposing plant matter in the water, and plant species that do not require additional fertilization in areas upslope from the pond. 

Figure 1: Planting for Water Quality.


“Nutrients and Eutrophication | U.S. Geological Survey.” https://www.usgs.gov/mission-areas/water-resources/science/nutrients-and-eutrophication

Atlas Scientific. “Water Purification Methods,” May 24, 2022. https://atlas-scientific.com/blog/water-purification-methods/

Canada, Environment and Climate Change. “Water Pollution: Erosion and Sedimentation.” Guidance, January 9, 2007. https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/water-overview/pollution-causes-effects/erosion-sedimentation.html. 

Moseman, Andrew. “What Would Happen If We Lost All Coral Reefs? | MIT Climate Portal.” MIT Climate Portal, November 16, 2023. https://climate.mit.edu/ask-mit/what-would-happen-if-we-lost-all-coral-reefs. 

Lichatowich, James A. Salmon without rivers: A history of the pacific salmon crisis. Washington, DC: Island Press, 1999. 

Kennen, Kate, and Niall Kirkwood. Phyto: Principles and resources for site remediation and landscape design. New York: Routledge, 2017. 

Marcy, Suzanne M, Glenn Suter II, and Susan Cormier. “Dissolved Oxygen.” US EPA Data and Tools, November 4, 2015. https://www.epa.gov/caddis-vol2/dissolved-oxygen. 

HCMA.  Natural Swimming Pools: The Future of Public Swimming without Chlorine.  HCMA, 2016.  https://hcma.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Natural-Swimming-Pools-Report_HCMA.pdf 

Bowler, Diana E., Rebecca Mant, Harriet Orr, David M. Hannah, and Andrew S. Pullin. “What Are the Effects of Wooded Riparian Zones on Stream Temperature?” Environmental Evidence 1, no. 1 (May 1, 2012): 3. https://doi.org/10.1186/2047-2382-1-3

Additional Resources

Kennen, Kate, and Niall Kirkwood. Phyto: Principles and resources for site remediation and landscape design. New York: Routledge, 2017. 

This is a highly recommended resource for all environmental designers, outlining the science of phytoremediation to its cutting edge (including plant lists, contaminant tables, and precedents), while providing practical takeaways for environmental designers with beautiful and informative graphics.

HCMA.  Natural Swimming Pools: The Future of Public Swimming without Chlorine.  HCMA, 2016.  https://hcma.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Natural-Swimming-Pools-Report_HCMA.pdf 

Natural swimming pools are a continuously developing technology that this document outlines in an easy-to-understand way.


Vintondale Reclamation Park: DIRT Studio

Vintondale, Pennsylvania, USA

A drawing from DIRT studio showing a series of remediation basins adjacent to the town of Vintondale. Image credit DIRT Studio

Vintondale Reclamation Park seeks to make visible the process by which toxic acid mine drainage is cleaned from the waters of Blacklick Creek, at the site of an abandoned coal mine.

The project can be viewed here.

Parque Rachel de Queiroz: Architectus S/S
Fortaleza, Brazil

A series of ponds remediate water from the Riacho Cachoeirinha. Photo credit Joana França via ArchDaily.

Parque Rachel de Queiroz interweaves recreation and water quality and flooding control in the middle of an urban center. “After intensive hydrological studies, nine interconnected ponds were proposed to perform a natural water filtering process through decanting and phytoremediation. This process is conducted by microorganisms fixed both on the surface of the soil and on the roots of aquatic plants in the ponds.”

The project can be viewed here.

The Ethics of Water

Access to clean drinking and water is an issue of life or death for many across the globe.  Beyond this, access to healthy salt and freshwater ecosystems are important for food, wellbeing, hygiene, and cultural significance.  Issues of power, jurisdiction, drought, pollution, and conflict result in billions of people around the world that do not have the access to water that they need.  Even countries that are considered wealthy or affluent have serious issues of water ethics occurring today.  As landscape architects and designers, viewing the complexity of humankind’s relationship to water in the landscape from a sociological and justice perspective should critically inform our practice. 

What are some examples of current water ethics issues? 

World Health Organization (WHO) estimated in 2019 that 1/3 of people globally – or 2.2 billion people – do not have access to clean water for drinking1.  Lack of clean drinking water has been shown to perpetuate further inequalities: for example, UNICEF and WHO have found that women and girls in areas without nearby water sources are significantly more likely to be responsible for retrieving water often over significant distances, both putting them at risk and taking their time away from work, education, and family2.   

Figure 1: Share of Population with Access to Improved Drinking Water Map. ReliefWeb.

For areas of the world that struggle with significant drought along with poor access to potable water, climate change has the potential to add additional stress to water supplies, further exacerbating existing inequalities.  Establishment of infrastructure, policies, and practices now that will provide people with life-giving water during future extreme heat and drought is an urgent need3

It is often assumed that lack of potable water is an issue exclusively experienced in developing countries, however this is not true.   In Canada, there are ongoing boil water advisories in indigenous communities that in some cases have lasted decades, even in communities immediately adjacent to significant cities.  According to one 2019 article, people living on First Nations reserves are 90 times more likely to be without running water than people living elsewhere in the country, and are also significantly more likely to experience water-borne illnesses4.  Federal government promises to solve this extensive issue by 2021 were not kept, and many communities are still without clean drinking water. 

Figure 2. Sign at Neskantaga First Nation, Ontario. CBC.

Figure 3. Advisories for seafood consumption at the Duwamish River, Seattle. This now highly contaminated Superfund site has been relied upon for food by the Duwamish people for thousands of years. KUOW/John Ryan.

Beyond drinking water, access to shorelines is a global issue beset by injustice and inequality.  For example, In urban New York and New Jersey, lack of access to the shore is most likely to be experienced by those living in the poorest neighbourhoods5.   

These are just a few of the contemporary issues of water equity, covered in brief.  Please be sure to research issues specific to the location and time of your project.   It is also important to understand any history of water inequity that may still be impacting and site and the people who engage with it.  Explore the following areas for a holistic picture: Drinking water, recreational access, cultural access, and water quality. 

1. “1 in 3 People Globally Do Not Have Access to Safe Drinking Water – UNICEF, WHO.”

2. “Drinking-Water.”

3. “Water – at the Center of the Climate Crisis | United Nations.”

4. Swampy and Black, “Tip of the Iceberg: The True State of Drinking Water Advisories in First Nations.”

5. Mortice, “Everybody In.”

What role do landscape architects and designers play in promoting ethical access to water? 

There are several areas in which Landscape architects, planners, and designers can promote just access to water in the landscape.   

First, through awareness and education: this field has unique skills for visualizing and processing data on water in the landscape that can lead to better-informed policy decisions and practices that support equitable water use and access.  Interpretive design interventions that reveal the invisible network of relationships with water on a site are an example of how this can be pursued.  This first requires that the environmental designer is thoroughly knowledgeable about the issues at hand and committed to the process of learning and staying up-to-date. 

Second, through activism: landscape architects and designers have platforms and relationships that can – and should – be leveraged to effect change. 

Finally, through design: it is critical that our projects understand and reflect site-specific issues of justice, rights, and access to avoid perpetuating water injustice.  This may manifest in interventions that clean contaminants from water bodies, provide physical access points for fishing, recreation, and washing or prioritize the rights and wellbeing of marginalized groups over the desires of powerful corporations and organizations.   


“1 in 3 People Globally Do Not Have Access to Safe Drinking Water – UNICEF, WHO.” https://www.who.int/news/item/18-06-2019-1-in-3-people-globally-do-not-have-access-to-safe-drinking-water-unicef-who.

“Drinking-Water.” World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/drinking-water.

Mortice, Zach. “Everybody In.” Landscape Architecture Magazine, June 22, 2020. https://landscapearchitecturemagazine.org/2020/06/22/everybody-in/.

Swampy, Mario, and Kerry Black. “Tip of the Iceberg: The True State of Drinking Water Advisories in First Nations.” UCalgary News. https://ucalgary.ca/news/tip-iceberg-true-state-drinking-water-advisories-first-nations.

United Nations. “Water – at the Center of the Climate Crisis | United Nations.” https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/science/climate-issues/water.


Figure 1: “World: Access to Safe Drinking Water – World | ReliefWeb,” August 6, 2008. https://reliefweb.int/map/world/world-access-safe-drinking-water.

Figure 2: News ·, Olivia Stefanovich · CBC. “Ontario Should Stop Playing ‘jurisdictional Ping Pong’ with First Nations’ Water Crisis, Says NDP MPP | CBC News.” CBC, December 22, 2020. https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/sol-mamakwa-ontario-government-neskantaga-1.5849929.

Figure 3: The Seattle Times. “Toxic Legacy of Seattle’s Only River Could Cost Boeing, Taxpayers $1 Billion. Talks over Who Pays More Are Secret,” September 24, 2023. https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/times-watchdog/toxic-legacy-of-duwamish-river-could-cost-boeing-taxpayers-1-billion/.

Additional Resources

“Drinking-Water.” World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/drinking-water.

A concise fact sheet outlining global water issues through statistics. Links on the page provide potentially helpful avenues for more detailed research

Boelens, Rutgerd, Tom Perreault, and Jeroen Vos, eds. Water Justice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781316831847.

An extensive resource on water justice, providing a detailed, recent overview of issues facing us today around the world. This is a highly recommended read.


Confluence: Maya Lin, others

Series of locations in Washington and Oregon, USA, along the Columbia River

Confluence is a combination of landscape architecture, art, and community engagement programs that seeks to restore a cultural connection and access “to the history, living cultures, and ecology of the Columbia River system through Indigenous voices”.

This project can be viewed here.

Rwampara Wetland: Rwanda Environment Management Authority
Kigali, Rwanda

As the city of Kigali expands rapidly, the wetlands that support agriculture and water access in the city have been compromised, also leading to flooding and other hardships in low lying areas. The Rwanda Environment Management Authority is in the process of supporting managed retreat from wetland areas in the city, while transforming the area around the wetland into biodiverse public space, promoting equitable water access and stewarding one of the cities greatest resources.

Study for the wetland rehabilitation can be found here. Also see “Kigali, Rwanda: city of hills and wetlands” in Out There: Landscape architecture on global terrain.

The Experience of Water

Water, perhaps more than any other single element, is an inherently multisensorial part of the landscape. 

What are some examples of the multisensorial experience of water to consider in design?

SOUND: water drips, splashes, rushes, ripples, and swirls, generating a varied range of sounds.  Water also impacts the transmission of other sounds: the sound of flowing water or crashing waves may block out urban noise, while still water surfaces can reflect small sounds over great distances. 

SMELL: Water impacts the experience of smell in its immediate surroundings.  Imagine the smell of a damp forest compared to a dry one.  Fast-moving water or mist often makes the surrounding air feel and smell fresh.  

TOUCH: Our nerves do not have the ability to “feel” wetness, rather, they feel the difference in temperature between our skin and the moisture it comes in contact with (CITE).  Submerging oneself in cool water or warm water has a very different effect, the former invigorating and the latter relaxing.  The experience of moisture in the air, as well as the feeling of moving water passing through one’s fingers are important experiences to consider in the landscape. 

TASTE: While not all water in the landscape can be tasted, some is intended for drinking and its taste may be considered as part of the purification process.  Otherwise, there is a certain flavor to moisture in the air that is experienced in tandem with its smell. 

SIGHT: Watching water ripple, rush, and form waves is an experience that offers relaxation.  For hundreds of years, environmental designers have considered and revered water’s ability to reflect light – and therefore images.  Many architects have used reflecting pools to cast ephemeral, rippling reflected light onto ceilings and walls.  Water sparkles, forms droplets on leaves, freezes in frosty dustings or snowy white blankets, and dynamically images its surroundings. 

Figure 1: Examples of Multisensorial Experience in Designed Landscapes

What are the benefits of proximity to water in the landscape in relation to wellbeing? 

The multisensorial nature of water contributes to wellbeing throughout the human lifecycle.  At a young age, the multisensorial nature of water applied to play aids in sensorial integration, an important milestone in infancy.  As children grow, play, explore, and learn in water and wet, “messy” places, they develop motor skills and attention skills while encouraging imaginative play1.  Engagement with wildlife that is drawn to watery landscapes further benefits childhood development2

For adults in urban areas, water in natural landscapes contributes to wellbeing by encouraging passive attention, which has been studied as a way of reducing attention fatigue from the active attention required by the working urban life3.  The sound of water is particularly good at masking urban noise, helping to create a sense of peace even in small city spaces.   

Water in its various forms has been shown to be a critical aspect of encouraging biodiversity in the landscape (see the Water and Biodiversity blog post).  Engaging with biodiverse landscapes and their active wildlife is also excellent for passive attention. 

The concept of therapeutic landscapes, derived from the aforementioned active/passive attention theories, has been popularized since the 1990’s, and has intersections with culture and history, especially when related to water4.  In many cultures and religions, water or certain bodies of water are considered sacred, and may be connected to concepts of healing and wellness.  It is important to understand that water’s impact on wellbeing may go beyond universal science of the human body into the realm of more place-specific cultural and spiritual influences. 

[1] Herrington and Brussoni, “Beyond Physical Activity.”

[2] White and Stoecklin, “Nurturing Children’s Biophilia.”

[3] Mooney, Planting Design: Connecting People and Place.

[4] Marques et al., “Therapeutic Landscapes.”

How can Environmental designers promote wellbeing through water-based interventions? 

Environmental designers are in a unique position to incorporate water into their work in a way that promotes wellbeing.  By understanding the intersections between universal and site-specific needs landscape architects can provide spaces to encounter water in the landscape that are accessible, variable, and biodiverse. 

Environmental designers must endeavor to make water accessible (See also The Ethics of Water blog page).  On an urban planning scale, this means ensuring that everyone is in close proximity to natural landscapes that include water.  It is especially important that children have access to water that they can play in and near throughout their most critical developmental stages.  At a smaller scale, environmental designers can design watery landscapes to be fully inclusive so that all members of a community can benefit from proximity to water.  Interventions may be centered on the issue of access, for example, returning industrial properties along a river to public shoreline and constructing areas for recreation, fishing, or swimming.  Water quality is a big part of ensuring accessibility, and should be considered in tandem.

When designing with water, employ variability in such a way that promotes a variety of multisensorial experiences. Consider how each of these experiences is felt and perceived by the visitor: for example, some sounds of water can be relaxing while others are energizing or even bothersome. Variability of sensory water experiences can be used to create a sense of place and aid in wayfinding.

Finally, note that the experience of water extends beyond the water itself to that which it affords in the landscape. One of these is the experience of biodiversity, which is becoming an increasingly important consideration for environmental designers. For more information on the importance of biodiversity in design, and how water plays a significant role, please visit the Water and Biodiversity blog page.


Marques, Bruno, Jacqueline McIntosh, Hayley Webber, Bruno Marques, Jacqueline McIntosh, and Hayley Webber. “Therapeutic Landscapes: A Natural Weaving of Culture, Health and Land.” In Landscape Architecture Framed from an Environmental and Ecological Perspective. IntechOpen, 2021. https://doi.org/10.5772/intechopen.99272.

Mooney, Patrick F. Planting Design: Connecting People and Place. Routledge, 2020.

Zhang, Xindi, Yixin Zhang, Jun Zhai, Yongfa Wu, and Anyuan Mao. “Waterscapes for Promoting Mental Health in the General Population.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 18, no. 22 (January 2021): 11792. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph182211792.

Herrington, Susan, and Mariana Brussoni. “Beyond Physical Activity: The Importance of Play and Nature-Based Play Spaces for Children’s Health and Development.” Current Obesity Reports 4, no. 4 (December 1, 2015): 477–83. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13679-015-0179-2.

White, Randy, and Vicki L. Stoecklin. “Nurturing Children’s Biophilia: Developmentaly Appropriate Environmental Education for Young Children.” Collage: Resources for Early Childhood Educators, November 2008. http://psichenatura.it/fileadmin/img/R._White__V._L._Stoecklin_Nurturing_Children_s_Biophilia.pdf.

Additional Resources

Roehr, Daniel. Multisensory Landscape Design: A Designer’s Guide for Seeing. London: Routledge, 2022. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429504389.

A helpful resource for designing with all the senses in mind – not just sight. Water is shown to play a role in multisensorial landscapes especially in Chapter 3: Sensewalks.

Zhang, Xindi, Yixin Zhang, Jun Zhai, Yongfa Wu, and Anyuan Mao. “Waterscapes for Promoting Mental Health in the General Population.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 18, no. 22 (January 2021): 11792. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph182211792.

A research paper detailing the impacts of water in the landscape on human wellbeing through “mitigation (e.g., reduced urban heat island), instoration (e.g., physical activity and state of nature connectedness), and restoration (e.g., reduced anxiety/attentional fatigue)”.


Fin Garden

Location: Kashan, Iran

A gravity-fed water feature at Fin Garden, Kashan, Iran. Photo credit Visit Iran.

A 16th century Persian garden recognized by UNESCO. Fin Garden’s extensive water features, run entirely on gravity, create a multisensorial wonderland of sound and touch, smell, and sight.

View Iran’s tourism site for the garden here, or see pages 67-70 in Daniel Roehr’s Multisensory Landscape Design (see Additional Resources) for a multisensorial breakdown.

Garden City Playscape

Richmond, BC, Canada

A sluice gate allows kids to alter the flow of water through the play space. Photo credit Space2place.

A natural playscape incorporating channelized and messy water: the range of ways for kids (and adults) to interact directly with water in this park illustrate how significantly water can contribute to multisensorial play and childhood wellbeing.

This project can be viewed here.

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