design innovators architecture rain water clean_water africa green
Rain-Harvesting School Tackles Water Scarcity


by Michael Keller

Sometimes the best innovations aren’t about finding the most technologically advanced solutions, but merely looking at the problem differently. 

In arid regions throughout the world, the problem is simple: inadequate ground and surface water supplies force people to undergo hardship even where sufficient rain falls. A group called PITCHAfrica has part of the solution. 

Surface waters are often polluted. When they can be dug into groundwater reservoirs, wells provide a source of water that draws down future supplies. And underground supplies are also often polluted or too saline.

PITCHAfrica built Kenya’s Uaso Nyiro Primary School Waterbank School Building. The structure collects and holds rainwater, provides irrigation and room for growing crops and provides space for community activities. It contains four classrooms with protected gardens for cultivating food, teachers’ rooms, community spaces and a community courtyard theater.

The structure can harvest 350,000 liters of rainwater a year while its underground cistern can hold 150,000 liters. Rain drains with 95 percent efficiency into the cistern from the roof. Their design integrates ceramic filters to remove almost all contaminants from the water. 

The school, meanwhile, provides space to educate 360 children, and provides water for nearly twice that. It also serves as a community education center for 4,000 people. 

The group’s innovative design has garnered the school accolades around the world. In early October, it was named as a finalist in the 2013 Buckminster Fuller Challenge for socially responsible design. On Oct. 17, the U.S. Green Building Council named it one of the greenest schools on Earth.

“At PITCHAfrica and with our partner organisation ATOPIA Research, we are developing what we call ‘dynamic infrastructure’ for highly complex social and environmental situations,” director Jane Harrison said in a statement. ”Dynamic infrastructure integrates essential social, economic and environmental processes with the physical design and structure of the building – creating an active platform for community engagement and social and environmental support and transformation The Waterbank Schools Initiative is an exciting example of this.”

Top Image: Waterbank school diagram courtesy Buckminster Fuller Institute. 

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