Our approach is collaborative, communicative and holistic. The project demonstrates a way of working, to enhance acceptance and agreement among stakeholders.


Wooded hillsides surround the city of Rio de Janeiro, with many of its rivers feeding directly in to Guanabara Bay.

As the rivers pass through the city’s built up areas, including many that are not connected to a sewage network, they become contaminated and run as open sewers.

Approximately 20,000 litres of human waste flows in to the Guanabara Bay per second.


Rio de Janeiro is a city with abundant nature, fed by the many streams which fall from the surrounding mountains. At their source in the forests above the city, the rivers run clean with abundant wildlife. However, by the time these waters reach the Guanabara Bay they are heavily polluted, carrying solid waste, sewage and microbes dangerous to the city’s ecosystem. This is the starting point for the Água Carioca Project, a project inspired by the River Carioca, that gives the people of Rio their nickname: ‘Cariocas’.

Interviews with a broad range of stakeholders on an equal footing  were used to understand and incorporate multiple view points.

The design proposals stimulated discussion and helped create a focus on solutions that could work for multiple stakeholders.

Through this extensive process of local engagement, it has been possible to find a new way of combining top-down and bottom-up challenges and opportunities.


Engagement and inclusive participation of all stakeholders underpins the Água Carioca Project. Interviews with a spectrum of top-down to bottom-up actors (from the public sector, to researchers, activists and local residents) were a crucial method to achieve this. The emerging design proposals and a video were used as tools to understand, combine and reflect on the multiple perspectives. The project becomes a meeting point for previously opposing or distant viewpoints.

Locally adapted plants are used within the wetlands, following the guidance and expertise of local gardeners of the Sítio Burle Marx.

Construction of the prototype/pilot with the local team, within the grounds of the botanic garden Sítio Burle Marx, during the summer of 2016. 

The prototype/ pilot not only demonstrates the potential of the system but also acts as a catalyst for further action and engagement around the project, through visits and publicity.


Sítio Burle Marx is a key partner in the project. They contribute their local expertise on planting for the wetlands, as well as hosting the pilot. Realising the full-scale pilot was the most important step in the development of the project so far, enhancing comprehension, even among stakeholders who thought they knew the project. Seeing it live proved to be inspirational for numerous representatives of the municipality and state and other key players, who are now motivated to commission similar prototypes elsewhere.

The film ‘Água Carioca Diaries’, documents the interviews and includes a short animation explaining the design concept and strategy.

An exhibition at Studio-X in Rio de Janeiro provided a public platform for discussion and debate around the issues and proposed solution, as well as providing an opportunity to engage with local partners.

The tools form part of a communication strategy, enhancing acceptance and agreement among a broad base of stakeholders.


Every step in the project consciously seeks to generate tools that can be used to educate and communicate about the project, building support and momentum from the very small scale, towards the very large. The project has generated a film (including interviews and an animation), delivered a pilot (at Sitio Burle Marx, see above) and a public exhibition hosted by local partner, Studio-X. These are seen as tools, bringing along stakeholders as the project progresses and ensuring they own the idea.


Read more about the design proposals

Films explaining Água Carioca and how it works