River Echoes

Porto Design Biennale
Interaction designer
Proposal for a project to be exhibited at the Porto Design Biennale 2023, the central theme of which was water.

What if the river could speak? This is the question that the architect Pietro Dallera and I have explored in this project. What would it tell about itself, and what about us? The river's gentle caress shapes the land, carving valleys and canyons, a testament to its persistent quest for freedom. It mirrors the ebb and flow of human emotions, a reflection of our own journeys through time.

River Echoes Porto Design Biennale | Pietro Forino

Although water always meant life, our society shifted this meaning to a prerogative of pure technology. Infrastructure is relegated to different, self-contained spaces, it conforms according to the rule of efficiency: hidden where it can be hidden, in sight when it cannot be done otherwise. In this scenario, infrastructure moves away from context, place, traditions and people, becoming mainly an issue to be managed: the aim is to deliver a 'de-materialized' resource.

River Echoes Porto Design Biennale | Pietro Forino

The project aims to give voice to the Douro River in order to allow it to express its being. If in fact water already speaks to us with the recent events that have upset Emilia Romagna in Italy, humans do not seem to want to listen. By giving nature a voice, perhaps this could change, finally.

The extreme flexibility of Arduino makes possible to give rise to a system capable of reading even complex data directly and reliably. A few sensors placed in a buoy in the middle of the river may be sufficient to understand the state of the water. Among these is the TDS meter. The Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) sensor can read the chemical concentrations of a water sample with good sensitivity. These concentrations are usually compared in a table showing the values to determine whether the water analysed is drinkable or not, but this is not the use we would make of it. Rather, we would use the TDS data - combined with temperature sensor and oscilloscope data - in relation to external databases. By means of a simple Machine Learning algorithm, it is thus possible to find the logic of associating the database data with the data collected by the on-site sensors, and thus allow us to self-determine by prediction the condition of the river.

River Echoes Porto Design Biennale | Pietro Forino

The experience was thought to have a before, a during and an after. In the before, the sensors would be used to collect data from the river, in order to give awareness to the nature element.

In the during part, the project would be be activated on the inaugural day of the Biennale and can potentially last till the end (from the 19th of October to the December the 3rd). In this period of time, users could find along the course of the river 5 different places where the buoy where placed. On the levees at them, call-to-actions provided access to a web app capable of translating the data collected by the buoy into a narrative. Specifically, a positive narrative if the data were good, and a negative, plaintive one if, on the other hand, humans were suppressing the river's needs.

Following the closure of the Biennale - so the moment of the after - we would like to collect the conversations whose authors have given their consent to share, abstract them and realise both a digital and physical archival project. This could take shape in an online archive and a publishing project, which would make the conversations with the Douro the starting point for reflection even for those who have not had the opportunity to interact with them first-hand.

River Echoes Porto Design Biennale | Pietro Forino

The project was ultimately not selected, but it was nonetheless an excellent opportunity to be able to get informed and experiment with new issues.

River Echoes Porto Design Biennale | Pietro Forino
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