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Collecting their dews with an innovative fabric tower

Case Studies, Features | September 1, 2012 | By:

Architecture and Vision’s WarkaWater tower harvests H2O from thin air.

In the northern mountainous regions of Ethiopia, where there is very little rainfall, access to water requires several hours of walking to remote sources and hauling containers back to villages, with women and children doing most of the heavy lifting. To help eradicate this plight, Architecture and Vision, the international architecture and product-design studio of Arturo Vittori and Andreas Vogler, has developed WarkaWater, a 9m bamboo tower that employs a cheap, lightweight plastic raschel net to harvest potable water from the air.

The mesh fabric, the kind used for vegetable bags, hangs inside the basket-like framework and collects water from early-morning fog. “The effect is the same as when dew drops collect on leaves and spider nets,” explains Vogler. “Thin, lightweight materials cool down rapidly by radiation cooling over night and reach the condensation point in the early morning.” He says the large surface of the net can collect 10 to 20 liters of water per square meter daily. And the structure can collect up to six times more water when it rains.

According to Vogler, the long-term vision of the project is to enable knowledge transfer, allowing villagers to develop and build innovative structures with local resources. The entire structure can be assembled, lifted and fixed to the ground by four to six men with minimal tools. The tower is built in sections and installed from the top down so that no scaffolding is required.

“Rather than giving money, we want to inspire people to create their own visions and make them reality,” Vogler says. “We believe the fastest way to do this is to build and test an idea fairly quickly and at a low cost.” To that end, the first prototype of the project, Warka01 was built in May; Warka02 was erected in June. WarkaWater, the third prototype, was built for exhibition at Palazzo Bembo during the 13th International Architecture Biennale in Venice, which opened in late August. Vogler says Architecture and Vision is currently seeking funding to install several towers in northern Ethiopia next year.

The name WarkaWater comes from the native warka tree, an important part of Ethiopia’s ecosystem and culture in danger of disappearance. In Ethiopian culture, the shade of the warka is used for traditional public gatherings. “Of prime importance to us was to build a structure that makes the location where people collect their daily water a social place,” says Vogler. “We wanted to develop an architecture local people can relate to and which is capable of creating a ‘genius-loci.’”

Judy Grover writes regularly about design for national and international design journals.

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