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New exhibit examines the architecture of water systems at Field Museum

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Complex infrastructure and hidden systems are revealed in photographs from Brad Temkin

From inside a concrete tunnel, the view shows skinny stream of water leading outside.
West Bull Nose, Chicago, Illinois 2016
Photo by Brad Temkin, provided by the Field Museum

Chicago’s rising lake levels and urban flooding are bringing new questions about our infrastructure and water to the forefront, which makes a new exhibit showcasing the designs and architecture behind massive water systems at the Field Museum especially timely.

Opening on Friday, September 13, State of Water: Our Most Valuable Resource will feature 31 photographs from Brad Temkin’s book of the same title. The Chicago-based photographer explores overlooked places and his work is often an important tool for conservationists, the museum said in a statement.

“These pictures address the importance of water and celebrate ideas in design, showing the inventiveness in infrastructure and architecture that no one ever thinks about, supporting our need for accommodating nature,” said Temkin in a statement.

The large-scale photographs are meant to teach people about the full cycle of water—something that many people aren’t required to know about. A third of the photos were taken in Chicago, and the rest in other major cities across the country. The abstract images put visitors up close with the mechanics and architecture that deliver the world’s most valuable resource.

In the photo above, West Bull Nose, shows the exit of a Deep Tunnel in Chicago. It’s a 109-mile, massive tunnel that helps prevent flooding on the streets. Its pictured with a trickle of water, but during a heavy rainfall the reservoir can fill completely to 17.5 billion gallons.

“People think very one-dimensionally when it comes to water,” said Dr. Katherine Moore Powell, a climate change ecologist at the Field Museum in a statement.

“We can struggle to look for a real-world picture to understand these complicated ideas. For instance, at the MWRD [Metropolitan Water Reclamation District], water is purified at a rate of one million gallons per minute,” she said. “That’s incredible! How are people supposed to appreciate what that even looks like, without seeing it first? We have a lot of daily interactions with water but most people know so little about the full cycle.”

The exhibit will be part of general admission for the Field Museum and is on display until January 12, 2020.