This Glowing Disco Ball Could Be Your Next Clean Water Source

Andres Jaque wants to turn sustainability into a party.

This Glowing Disco Ball Could Be Your Next Clean Water Source
[Images: courtesy of Andrés Jaque/Office for Political Innovation]

In a few months, Andres Jaque will build a towering labyrinth of water pipes in the courtyard of the contemporary art museum, MoMA PS1: a building-sized water filter on wheels filled with glowing microorganisms that will cool and shade sweaty summer visitors while purifying thousands of gallons of polluted water. Jaques and his firm, the Office for Political Innovation, are taking over the contemporary museum as part of this year’s Young Architects Program, an annual competition geared toward creating experimental structures to serve as backdrops for MoMA PS1’s summer music series.


Jaque’s project, COSMO, is a plant-filled structure of steel irrigation pipes held together with wires and placed on wheels. The machine is designed to purify 3,000 gallons of water over the course of several days, filtering it through various ecosystems filled with algae, plants, ultraviolet rays, and waterfalls to rid it of pollution and add in oxygen. A microorganism inside COSMO glows in the dark in response to the purified water, lighting up the courtyard. A smartphone app allows visitors to check in on the water quality within the installation at any time. COSMO represents a whole new way to think about urban water reuse, as a public spectacle to be admired, rather than a process hidden underground and in treatment plants. It also functions as a massive outdoor air-conditioner.

The firm discusses how it works and the inspiration behind the project in the video below:

“The way we think of water has changed immensely,” in the last few decades, Jaque says in a phone interview. With conflicts over the scarcity of water, an increased awareness of environmental challenges, and climate change’s impact on drought and sea-level rise, water has never been a more valuable resource. The Office for Political Innovation estimates that 500 million gallons of untreated water from the 2 billion gallons that run through the pipes underneath New York City every day could be treated locally for reuse.

“Sustainability doesn’t necessarily need to be something that’s boring or hidden to us,” Jaque says. He likes to think of COSMO as a disco ball–“part of the party,” as he puts it. The machine is doing something for the environment–purifying polluted water for reuse–but it’s also an attraction in its own right. The machine creates shade, wind, and evaporates water–all of which lower the temperature of the immediate surroundings by up to six degrees. The plants will grow in clear acrylic containers, allowing you to see how the roots react to the water. “It’s kind of a transparent garden hanging in the air,” the architect says.

At the end of the summer, COSMO will be dismantled. The plants will be given to local residents, and the pipes will be shipped off for reuse in irrigation systems. But Jaques hopes they can be used in some type of water filtration system, allowing the essence of the installation to live on. “That is our intention, to bring the experimentation to new places,” he says. “Anyone could use these techniques at home in the garden.”

He goes on: “We’re thinking that cities could become the places where pleasure could be made out of our engagement with environmental issues, and by doing that we could celebrate our attachment and engagement with nature.”

About the author

Shaunacy Ferro is a Brooklyn-based writer covering architecture, urban design and the sciences. She's on a lifelong quest for the perfect donut.