An elegant architectural solution

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Waterbank Schools — a special award winner in the prestigious Buckminster Fuller Challenge – founded in 2007 sponsored by Interface in 2013 – was designed by PITCHAfrica’s Jane Harrison and David Turnbull to address the needs of areas in Africa that lack easy access to clean water.

The First Waterbank School was built for the Uasonyiro Primary School and a community from seven tribes, with no sanitation, no water and limited resources

“Water insecurity brings myriad issues with it, from poor nutrition and health to gender inequality and the threat of conflict,” says Turnbull, professor of architecture at New York’s The Cooper Union, and design director for PITCHAfrica. This insecurity brings a high social cost as well, as neighboring tribes often fight over clean water, and foraging for water is considered girls’ work, which keeps young women out of school.

The first Waterbank School in Laikipia, Kenya, with its underground reservoir, harvests 360,000 liters of water during two rainy seasons. That water is collected and stored in a holding tank and pumped daily and filtered to provide drinking water on demand. The 300-student Waterbank School is an alternative to typical barrack type buildings, cost only $60,000 to build, and also acts as a community center and teaching tool. Each of the four classrooms looks out onto a community garden that is irrigated with grey water from hand washing. A perimeter wall creates special micro-climates and protects the crops from wildlife, while a central courtyard serves as a community theater.

The Waterbank School is set inside a circular perimeter wall made from local stone that protects the school, community areas, the classroom gardens and 150,000 liters of water stored in a reservoir under the central courtyard.

“Our mission is to support as many whole-systems approaches as we can,” says BFI Executive Director Elizabeth Thompson. “Interface joined us as dedicated contributors in the field.” Now Interface is working with The Waterbank School to determine how to best leverage the company’s expertise in support of the groundbreaking project’s growth over a six-month period of time. Interface’s partnership with BFI honors the synergies between the profoundly relevant legacies of its founder Ray Anderson and designer and inventor Buckminster Fuller. “The Waterbank School’s simple design is an elegant and practical way of addressing sanitation, health, and education,” said Dan Hendrix, Chairman and CEO of Interface, Inc. “As Ray Anderson would have said, it is so right, so smart.”


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