Water Lab is dedicated to the widely shared goal of restoring the life of water in cities.

Water Lab’s philosophical and creative approach is to transform water out of urban infrastructure where water is overly engineered, controlled, and degraded, and instead, to redesign water as an alive and vital element that characterizes, hydrates, and regenerates the city at all scales for all people. 

To do so, we use design thinking to disrupt and re-design 19th-and-20th century urban conditions, with a special focus on surfaces of cities dominated by old, outdated systems of pavement. Our projects locate opportunities to redesign the surface of the city to capture, absorb, and infiltrate rain where it falls, nourishing local soils and healthy neighborhoods. To do this, we identify opportunities for integrated, serial design projects--such as depaving design, water gardens, productive landscapes, and green infrastructure approaches--that re-introduce rainwater design as a vital part of the urban, ecological, public realm. 

Our design research integrates multiple disciplinary perspectives and knowledge. Although landscape architecture principles and practices ground and guide our central approach, our work is enlightened, informed, and dependent on practices within hydro-geology, site modeling and performance studies, new materialism, environmental humanities, and conceptual art. We bring multiple viewpoints, vocabularies, and voices to the 'water table'. 

We're currently focused on these opportunities in the urbanized landscapes of Chicago and the Calumet region, where rust-belt conditions, shifting populations, changing economies, glaciated landscapes, and the largest freshwater source in North America collectively create a critical design territory for water. Currently impervious urban surfaces contribute to the great export of water from the Great Lakes basin to the Mississippi Watershed, and our work aims to reserve this flow.

FRESH WATER Book Forthcoming 2019! - Mary Pat was Co-chair with Jessica Henson for the FRESH WATER design symposium at University of Illinois in September 2018. The symposium hosted keynotes, panels, and conversations on themes of integrated, inter-disciplinary design needs across the major inland water territories of North America.

The collected volume Fresh Water, McGuire & Henson (Eds.) is forthcoming from Applied Research + Design Publishing in 2019:


Also available at Amazon:







Mary Pat McGuire is a Registered Landscape Architect and Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Illinois.

Currently focused on the water territory of Chicago and the Great Lakes, her research and teaching focus on the reconfiguration of under-performing urban surfaces as landscape infrastructure for water. Her academic research is founded by a decade of professional landscape architecture experience in California and Chicago. 

McGuire has a BA in International Political Theory from William & Mary, a Master in Landscape Architecture from the University of Virginia, and a Certificate in Sustainability Management from the University of Chicago. She is a US-EPA Research Award, recipient, twice served as Research Fellow with the Landscape Architecture Foundation (Washington, DC), and was an inaugural Design Research Fellow in the College of Fine & Applied Arts (FAA) at the University of Illinois.

McGuire’s Water Lab design research is supported by the Wright Ingraham Institute, Illinois’ College of Fine & Applied Arts, Illinois’ Campus Research Board, the Brent & Jean Wadsworth Endowment, and an IL/IN Sea Grant (NOAA).  

For further information or to collaborate on a project, please contact Mary Pat at chicagowaterlab@gmail.com