Waterbank Schools

If we do more with less, our response will be adequate to take care of everybody.” -R. Buckminster Fuller.

ORGANIZATION NAME: PITCHAfrica

LOCATION: Kenya

SUMMARY: PITCHAfrica identifies the need for water as a critical global problem, and transforms community dynamics by offering an elegantly simple solution. In a nested way, this design intervention is at once a social, educational, medical, environmental, and economic intervention. PITCHAfrica’s Waterbank Schools demonstrate that innovation is not just “reinventing the wheel”, but instead, fine-tuning it to produce a highly replicable new form that anticipates how the built environment will provide for communities in the future. In Fuller parlance, a Waterbank typology is inherently a “Design Science” solution to a global problem. The model takes a common architectural form and adds a trimtab: water catchment and filtration systems that transform the use of the structure, makes certain behaviors obsolete, and directly addresses the lack of a critical resource. Embedded in this new model is the understanding that community values are a top priority, from who builds the actual structure to its use for numerous activities.

SOLUTION: The Waterbank School, whose first functioning model is a communally constructed school in Laikipia, Kenya, completed in December 2012, is a working demonstration of the remarkable leveraging power of water catchment as a socially integrated resource awareness and community engagement tool. The school’s roof harvests rainwater, directed to and stored in a central cistern that includes a ceramic filtration system. The classrooms are positioned to face in toward the rainwater-harvesting courtyard where gardens are planted to grow crops. This system serves students, faculty and the surrounding community with clean, accessible water, and the building acts as a learning tool and community training and knowledge hub for a whole region. In a world in which one billion people are living without access to clean water and water-borne illnesses are rampant, this simple design offers an elegant and practical way to address sanitation, health, and education.

The PITCHAfrica project approaches shelter – the cornerstone of Bucky’s artifactual oeuvre – as he did: almost as a living machine. In other words, the services it “performs” are as important as what it looks like. It may not be revolutionary new design, but it reframes the design question for community centers and schools into that of creating buildings that solve problems. Waterbank Schools alleviate the problems of poverty and gender equality by transforming what is normally a woman’s burden – fetching water – into an opportunity for the whole community. Women and girls are the first tier of community members who benefit from Waterbank schools because they are the central caretakers addressing family needs.

Following the construction of Waterbank Schools, school attendance has risen by at least a quarter, and often as high as 95%, proving that proper design yields concrete impacts not only on community health and wellbeing, but also on opportunity. Waterbanks has evolved since 2007 from a design-savvy and iconic solution for capturing water into a comprehensive, school-based solution that brilliantly integrates and responds to the needs of local culture.

UPDATE (2018): The Waterbank School building at Uaso Nyiro Primary School was named The Greenest School on Earth in 2018 by the US Green Building Council. Read more here.

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