Contested Urban Waterscapes

About CUW

Contested Urban Waterscapes (CUW) is a platform that explores water inequalities in urban contexts from an interdisciplinary perspective. It particularly unravels how inequalities can be productively conceptualized and explained through contestations that emerge over the control and access to water in cities and their surrounding hinterlands. Excavating the social power relations behind these contestations becomes imperative for understanding why water inequalities still persist in many parts in the world despite technical and managerial efforts.


Location: Zentrum für Kust und Urbanistik (ZK/U), Berlin
Date: 11 July, 2019

Film: Traveling Waste // Reiseabfälle

Join a series of short documentaries to trace the invisible travel of waste. The trip begins with a short animation, with waste in the hands of an unaware citizen in Along the Way in Myanmar. Our next stop is Pimp my Carroça in Brazil, a project by the street artist Mundano which aims to make visible the important work of informal collectors, or ‘catadores’. In the context of absent Municipal services, these catadores play a crucial yet underrecognized role in society sorting through the city’s waste, using their ‘carroça’ (carts) to transport it through the streets. From Brazil we fly to San Francisco, a city that is Racing to Zero waste by 2020. This documentary follows the journey of various types of waste – clothes, plastic, organics, electronics – to catch a glimpse into the innerworkings of a recycling facility. Our last stop is in India, where textiles considered to be waste in western countries are exported to be recycled. Unravel documents the process of textile recycling in Northern India, from the perspective of a woman with a vivid imagination of Western culture, which she explores through the clothing she works with.

Menu: Pilau with seasonal and local vegetables, accompanied by a free dessert (a fruit salad) provided by Foodsharing
Download Speisekino Program 2019
Download Speisekino Program 2017
Download Speisekino Program 2016

Facebook event page here

In cooperation with

Urban Management Program, Technische Universität Berlin
Zentrum für Kunst und Urbanistik/Center for Art and Urbanistics ZK/U



While the international community discusses the importance of securing the human right to water during the Seventh Inter-American Dialogue on Water Resource Management (D7), low-income households in Medellín are denied access to this essential resource for non-payment of bills or because they are located in so-called “high-risk” zones. ¡O comemos o pagamos! puts a lens to the invisible everyday practices of low-income households as they attempt to secure access to water in a city of privilege hydrological conditions that owns one of the most efficient public utility companies in Latin America.

Directors: Marcela López/Miodrag Kuč
Length: 22 mins
Year: 2015
Country: Colombia/Germany

The documentary is based on my 2016 book Paisajes Hídricos Urbanos en Disputa: Agua, Poder y Fragmentación Urbana en Medellín, Colombia Download Book Flyer

Click here for video (YouTube)



29.03 University of Wisconsin-Madison (Madison, USA)


21.06 Institut für Ethnologie, Ludwig Maximilians Universität – LMU (Munich, Germany)

27.02 Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society (Munich, Germany) Download Green Screens Program


24.06 Lange Nacht der Wissenschaften, Technische Universität Berlin (Berlin, Germany)

25.05 Muestra Audiovisual – Narrativas de Memoria (Medellín, Colombia) Download Film Festival Program

22.03 Universidad de Antioquia (Medellín, Colombia)

07.02 The Oslo School of Architecture and Design – AHO (Oslo, Norway)


07.11 Urban Management Program, Technische Universität Berlin (Berlin, Germany)

13.10 Alice Salomon Hochschule (Berlin, Germany)

10.08 Critical Concrete (Porto, Portugal)

08.07 La Ladera Library Park (Medellín, Colombia)

06.07 Center for Metropolitan Studies – CMS , Technische Universität Berlin (Berlin, Germany)

10.06 Speisekino Moabit, Zentrum für Kust und Urbanistik (ZK/U) (Berlin, Germany)

Summer School


Location: Porto, Portugal
Date: 05-25 August, 2019

Critical Concrete promotes a new model to refurbish socially-relevant spaces – social housing, cultural centres, and public spaces – through educational programs.

It offers a summer school program for architecture, design students and makers who are interested in both the theory of sustainable architecture and getting physically involved in the construction work.

In this process, summer school participants contribute to the thorough refurbishment projects that could not normally be afforded by the social housing occupants or covered in full by public funding.

CUW will join the summer school as a tutor and will offer theoretical insights into the Landscapes of Waste to understand the connection between growing urban consumption habits and the geographies of waste disposal. Additionally, we will discuss the reactions that recycling elicits in consumers; namely, that recycling ameliorates any hesitation when it comes to consumption, and that we somehow might be doing something good for the environment. But where does waste end up, once it’s been deposited into a container or bin?

For more information on Critical Concrete
Download Summer School Program 2019
Download Summer School Program 2017
Download Summer School Program 2016

Facebook page here

Book Launch

Location: Universidad de Antioquia, Medellín, Colombia
Date: 22 March, 2017


“Las Empresas Públicas de Medellín enfrentan una inmensa paradoja. En las últimas décadas se han consolidado como una de las organizaciones más exitosas del país y de Latinoamérica en sus sectores de actividad, que incluyen acueducto y alcantarillado, electricidad, gas natural, servicios de telecomunicaciones y recolección de residuos sólidos. Es, con razón, motivo de orgullo de Antioquia y de Colombia. Al mismo tiempo, esta empresa mantiene en promedio al 13% de las viviendas de Medellín desconectadas del servicio de agua. Es una paradoja que Marcela López identifica y analiza con rigurosidad y creatividad a partir de diversas aproximaciones teóricas y un cuidadoso trabajo de investigación de campo en las zonas más pobres de la ciudad. En este excelente libro encontramos no solo las claves para entender esta injusticia socio-ambiental —originada, entre otras, en las formas de relacionamiento de la empresa con el Municipio de Medellín—, sino también imaginativas recomendaciones de la autora para superarla. Un libro de obligada lectura para todos los interesados en cómo hacer de Colombia un país más justo en los ámbitos social y ambiental, ahora que intentamos construir La Paz.” – Manuel Rodríguez Becerra _Presidente Foro Nacional Ambiental

“La privatización de los servicios públicos implica la pérdida de soberanía y la mercantilización de los bienes comunes como el agua, el detrimento del patrimonio público y la denegación de los derechos humanos que se garantizan a través de ellos, como el acceso y suministro de agua potable. Este libro busca hacer una contribución a los actuales debates académicos sobre el neoliberalismo en las ciencias sociales, investigando cómo las empresas públicas que trabajan bajo reformas orientadas al mercado implementan estrategias materiales, discursivas e institucionales particulares para producir y reproducir desigualdades sobre el acceso al agua.” – Javier Márquez _Corporación Ecológica y Cultural Penca de Sábila

The publication of this book was financed by CONFIAR, Penca de Sábila, Public Services International, PSI and the Syndicate of Workers of Medellín’s Public Utility Company, SINPRO

Download Book Flyer



One of the main goals of this platform is to develop different formats and educational material that present complex scientific information in a way that is visually stimulating and understandable to better engage a broad public. As a result, a visual strategy was created and presented in conferences, exhibitions and published in magazines to facilitate the involvement of academic and non-academic audiences in the discussion of sensitive and controversial issues such as the right to water and its commodification.

This visual strategy was designed in cooperation with the Berlin based studio ParaArtFormations. Results are available as a mobile exhibition (Four pages in DIN A2 format) and illustrate the economical, political, social and ecological dimensions of water inequalities in urban contexts.

The following posters were submitted to the international competition Out of Balance-Critique of the Present organized by the ARCH+ Magazine and the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation in 2013 and obtained the second price.

  • Material published in the ARCH+ Magazine (2013) (2016) // Graphic Design: Juan Esteban Naranjo

Transnational connections and local disconnections

Detail Board 1

The first poster introduces a historical and multi-scale analysis. Such a perspective offers the possibility to explain how the competitive logic of EPM and its rapid insertion into the global market has legitimized particular forms of circulating water through the city with outcomes that are detrimental for low-income households.

Governing the hydro-social cycle

The second poster illustrates how the monopoly in all basic public services by EPM facilitates particular forms of controlling the city. The circulation of water as a commodity combined with the already existing conditions of inequality reflected in the socio-economic stratification of the city (Strata 1 poorest and Strata 6 richest) provide a suitable ground for reinforcing inequalities in access to water.

Decommodifying the waterscape

The third poster analyses different informal practices deployed by disconnected households to secure access to water on an everyday basis. To capture this complexity the project classifies desconectados in three groups according to the nature and length of disconnection: suspended (non-payment of 2 to 7 bills), cut off (non-payment of more than 7 bills) and unserved (excluded from the formal water network because of illegal land tenure status).

From disconnection to self-disconnection

The fourth poster illustrates the struggle of Don Mario and his family to secure access to water even though they are entitled with this fundamental right. Additionally, it portraits how prepaid meters are presented as the “only viable solution” to reduce water inequalities while being deployed as a tool to re-educate low-income households into a “culture of payment”.


From Continuos Flow to Prepaid Drops
Location: Haus der Architektur, Technische Universität Berlin, Germany
Date: 24 of June, 2017
Part of the “Lange Nacht der Wissenschaften 2017”
For more information on Lange Nacht der Wissenschaften

Medellín – Human Right on Water
Location: German Pavilion of the UN-HABITAT III Conference in Quito, Ecuador
Date: 15 – 20 of October, 2016
Part of the exhibition “Planetary Urbanism: The Transformative Power of Cities”
For more information on Planetary Urbanism Exhibition

Waterscapes: Forms, Meanings and Transformations
Location: Gallery of Contemporary Art Paul Bardwell, Colombo Americano Medellín, Colombia
Date: 7 – 14 of April, 2014

In colaboration with the artist Carolina Caycedo

Download Exhibition Postcard


Die Nachwachsende Stadt – Climate Adaption
Location: Floating University Berlin
Date: 24 May, 2018

Architects and planners are increasingly confronted with new challenges: Fossil energy resources as well as non-renewable materials are on the decline, the effects of climate change and pollution threaten our living conditions and environment and lead to migratory movements and conflicts worldwide. Global urbanization and construction processes are among the largest greenhouse gas producers. At the same time, our increasingly urbanized societies offer a chance for a radical rethinking of these processes. Only if we succeed in making the global urban transformation sustainable and socially inclusive, we can secure our planetary survival.

The event-series for architects and planners ‘DIE NACHWACHSENDE STADT’ is a part of the design studio ‘Die Grosse Tranformation’ and offers an introductory overview on four topics on transformations towards sustainability – urban systems (May 17, 2018), climate adaptation (May 24, 2018), green economies (May 31, 2018) and governing transformation (June 7, 2018).


Urban Water Management – A Critical Handbook (2020)
The exclusion of large parts of the urban population from safe and affordable water supply services is often perceived as the outcome of a lack of financial support and technological deficiencies. However, the extension of pipes and water meters, the construction of dams, and the growing financial investments in the water sector have not solved the current water crises. This handbook is an attempt to show the limits of these technical and managerial solutions by providing different understandings of why some social groups continue to be excluded from having access to water.

In collaboration with the WaterPower Research Group, Trier University

Design, Layout & Illustration Benn Zorn | aufsiemitgebrüll

Download Handbook

Photo © Rike van Der Straeten