UNM Today

Contact Us
Current Issue
Editorial Policies
Previous Issues
Publication Dates

Subscribe to
email edition



Campus News
Your faculty and staff news since 1965
January 22, 2004
Volume 39, Number 11
Environmental Services landscapers Ruben Sanchez, standing, and Chris Stevens, install fragrant plants.
Basia Irland, art and art history professor, designed the project, located at the SUB’s NW corner.
Rainwater is diverted from the roof to an underground drip hose. Overflow circumambulates the garden and drains directly to the river.

Rainwater harvesting project connects campus

Lack of water inspires professor find creative solutions

By Laurie Mellas Ramirez

When the Student Union Building was in the initial stages of reconstruction, Art and Art History Professor Basia Irland, M.F.A., met with the architectural firm of Van Gilbert to suggest a rainwater harvesting project be incorporated into the design. She proposed that rain could be collected from the roof to feed a xeric garden Irland would construct at the SUB’s northwest corner.

Irland, an international lecturer on water and art, sculptor, artist, poet and environmental activist, is devoted to developing aesthetic, environmentally sound projects to demonstrate the importance of water conservation.

Her mixed media sculpture “Desert Fountain,” installed in 1999 at the Albuquerque Museum, “demonstrates that water reveals the interrelationships that surround us,” she said. In the late 1990’s, she also directed “A Gathering of Waters,” a
bi-national, five-year project and video documentary designed to bring attention to the 1,875 miles of the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo.

An interdisciplinary visionary, Irland engaged UNM faculty, staff and students who are studying or working as engineers, planners, landscapers or artists to help complete the campus garden and art installation. Irland received funding for the SUB project from the Bureau of Reclamation’s Water Conservation Program. She and Beverly Singer, Ph.D., anthropology and Native American Studies, received a Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation grant to create a similar project at the Pueblo of Isleta, resulting in a video documentary.

Alaa Ishak, Iraqi biology student, points to the Arabic word for water. Gabriel Arellano, linquistics sign language student, signs for water.

The SUB roof now includes a drain at the northwest corner to funnel precipitation to the ground level for use in the xeric garden designed by Irland. The water travels to an underground drip hose. Overflow circumambulates the garden in a gravel swale and then enters a drain that goes directly into the river.

“The process makes visible the hydrologic cycle. The water comes down as rain, is utilized to feed the plants, flows to the river, into the sea, evaporates to form clouds and the cycle continues,” Irland said, noting that a 1,000 sq. ft. roof yields 420 gallons of water from a mere inch of rain.

Fascinated with language and cultural diversity as well as water, other aspects of Irland’s design for the SUB included creating and installing ceramic tiles featuring the words for water in 63 languages including Greek, Spanish, Zuni and Tewa. Art students helped create and place the tiles on existing walls surrounding the garden.

“While we worked on the project it was intriguing to watch people from various countries walk by and find their language,” Irland said. “A student from Iraq said there was a sense of belonging when she saw the Arabic.”

Fragrant plants in the garden “emit wonderful aromas,” Irland said, “we have sage, rosemary, lavender, lemon thyme and chocolate flower.”

“I really enjoyed Basia’s rainwater harvesting project because it encompasses so many elements -- personalizing the sterility of the architecture, the ingenuity of capturing the natural water system in context with the architecture and the multicultural/international component of water in so many languages,” said Roberto Ibarra, special assistant for diversity, President’s Office.

Irland designed a second rainwater harvesting project at UNM near the new biology museum west of Woodward Hall. Water overflow from an overhead walkway drains to feed Japanese maple trees shading a stone bench.

“All of my work as an artist focuses on water,” says Irland, who was raised in Colorado near Boulder Creek. “When I moved to New Mexico, the lack of water heightened my interest.”

Nationally, urban and suburban landscaping account for as much as 30 to 50 percent of water used.

Rainwater harvesting is not a new concept in the U.S. or elsewhere, Irland explained. “In many dry countries, especially Australia and the Middle East, rain has been harvested for centuries.”

Irland’s innovative, multidisciplinary work is represented in permanent collections around the world. She frequently presents at international water and art conferences and has exhibited her work in Canada, the Dominican Republic, Europe and throughout the United States. Irland taught at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, before joining UNM in 1985.

She has received more than 30 grant awards including a Fulbright Senior Research Award to Southeast Asia and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Research grant.

A dedication for the SUB rainwater harvesting project, sponsored by the UNM Arts of the Americas Institute, will be held at the site Thursday, Feb. 12, at 11:30 a.m., followed by a reception at AAI, located at 1923 Las Lomas NE.

Irland will present a slide lecture ont he project Wednesday, Feb. 11, at 11:30 a.m., also at AAI.

Irland is founding director of the International Rural Water Institute at UNM and teaches courses on both international and Southwest water issues. She will team teach a fall class with professors Marilyn O’Leary, Utton Transboundary Resources Center, Michael Campana, UNM Water Resources Program, and Jose Rivera, School of Architecture and Planning. Irland is also working on international projects about non-potable agua and water borne diseases.