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Water Lab is a research-based, landscape architecture design studio that works to create urban flooding and stormwater interventions in ways that rebuild systems and relationships among land, water and people.


There are multiple intertwined and underlying causes of flooding and stormwater-related issues. These include: the slow development of adequate community and nature-minded infrastructure, a legacy of urban spatial fragmentation and high imperviousness, systemic injustice in land-use and infrastructure planning, and increasing storm intensity and climate disturbance.

Water Lab uses critical design thinking to examine and document these issues and generates research, data, and transformational design tools to support new forms of adaptation and systemic disruption, knowledge sharing, and pathways for collaborative design. A defining area of Water Lab’s research has been on the medium of the urban ground surface in public space design, urban adaptation, and climate resilience.


Water Lab’s goal is to support urban communities who have been most affected by the convergence of systemic injustices and for whom design, planning, investment, and outcomes are most critical.

Community organizations and residents are experts about the places they live and concerns must be localled defined. By learning about potential areas for design change, Water Lab can share research and design tools to support community-based decision-making about complex situations and effective and inventive ways to address them.


Water Lab works with multi-disciplinary researchers from science and engineering, artists, and public organizations, and we offer curriculum and educational programming on urban and regional water design. We create frameworks for regenerating functional and aesthetic relationships among geology, soils, water, climate, urbanization patterns, and human perception and well-being.

Through its affiliations with Illinois’ Department of Landscape Architecture, the College of Fine & Applied Arts, Illinois’ Prairie Research Institute, Illinois Extension, and external professional partners, Water Lab operates in a collaborative, interdisciplinary, and inclusive way, fulfilling the University’s mission of design advocacy and support in the public interest.

Water Lab is based in Chicago and currently focuses on water issues in the Chicago-Calumet region. Our contribution to the protection of the Great Lakes is also central to our purpose. Across the Great Lakes, there is a lot of work to do to clean-up and restore our natural systems as decades of environmental degradation and injustice continue to harm our water, soil, and air and the health of people living in our communities. Climate migration is expected to bring more people to the region. Understanding our land, water, and social histories, coupled with today’s rust-belt conditions, shifting populations, and changing economies, all within the largest freshwater source of North America, creates a critical design territory for water.

Water Lab design research has been supported by:

NOAA’s Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant
Illinois’ Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research
Illinois’ College of Fine & Applied Arts
Brent & Jean Wadsworth Endowment
Wright-Ingraham Institute

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