Circular Flows

EOOS will represent Austria at XXII. Triennale di Milano 2019, Milan | IT

The contribution Circular Flows: The Toilet Revolution!, funded by the Federal Chancellery of Austria and commissioned by the MAK, shows how much design can contribute to the regeneration of the world.

Installation view CIRCULAR FLOWS (detail), 2019 © MAK/Georg Mayer/EOOS

It is one of the most pressing environmental problems of our time and yet largely unknown: The pollution of our waters by nitrogen. The renowned Viennese design studio EOOS has developed the revolutionary prototype of a toilet for urine separation (urine trap), which offers a systemic design solution to fight the global nitrogen problem. The official Austrian contribution to the XXII. Triennale di Milano 2019 presents the urine trap embedded in a multimedia installation that illustrates the ecological interaction of coastal waters, sewage systems and agriculture. The EOOS exhibition shows the contribution the urine separation toilet can make to the repair of the valuable nitrogen cycle and thus to the preservation of the ecological boundaries of our planet.

The Urine Trap by EOOS is a systemic design solution in the battle against the global nitrogen problem. It makes it possible to separate urine in a conventional flush toilet in a way that is unnoticed by users. In addition to other nutrients, urine contains some 80% of the nitrogen found in sewage: consequently, this can be removed from the wastewater stream, collected in decentralized tanks, and finally treated to be used as fertilizer.

EOOS, Ergonomic study (thermal image with urine flow), 2018 © EOOS

Austria’s contribution to the Triennale di Milano 2019

The Urine Trap is based on long lasting research by Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, a pioneer in the field of urine separation. Since 2011, Eawag has been working on a revolutionary, entirely self-sufficient high-tech toilet for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation with EOOS responsible for the design of the Blue Diversion Toilet. Here separate piping systems for water, feces, and urine are central. After years of joint research, EOOS has now presented a further development in the form of the Urine Trap where urine separation can be integrated into a conventional flush toilet with little effort. Together with the Swiss ceramics manufacturer LAUFEN, EOOS has evolved the urine separation technology into a product.

While climate change as a result of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions already enjoys considerable attention, the nitrogen problem caused by sewage and the agricultural use of fertilizers still goes largely unnoticed by the public. However, a number of leading scientists ranks the large nitrogen streams as even more threatening than climate change. In their opinion, the biochemical flow of nitrogen exceeds planetary limits beyond which the basis of human life is endangered.

Especially in urban drainage basins, large quantities of nitrogen are introduced into rivers with the wastewater. Too much nitrogen leads to exponential algal bloom depriving coastal areas of oxygen. The result is dead zones in which higher organisms can no longer exist. The World Resources Institute lists almost sixty of these "dead zones" along the coasts of Europe. The Urine Trap empowers growing cities to reuse nitrogen for agriculture instead of destroying nature.

EOOS, from left to right: Harald Gruendl, Martin Bergmann, Gernot Bohmann, portrait, 2016 © Elfie Semotan

Austria’s contribution to the XXII. Triennale di Milano 2019 presents the Urine Trap embedded into a multimedia installation (by Process Studio, Vienna, with a light display by Zumtobel) visualizing the flow of nitrogen in an understandable way. A digital projection makes it possible to experience the fatal logic of the linear economy: the extensive use of industrial fertilizer, the current losses and emissions of nitrogen from wastewater treatment plants, and finally the dead zones in the oceans. A second, visionary scenario visualizes the possible repair of the nitrogen cycle supported by the usage of urine separation toilets and therefore the chance to preserve the planetary boundaries. An animation shows the utopia of an ideal river mouth: based on scientific data the actual condition of the French Seine River watershed is compared to a desirable one.