Water is the source of all life on earth. It’s essential for our health, environment, and economies. However, given its importance, water isn’t as abundant as one might imagine. While bodies of water cover most of the earth’s surface, only one percent of it is freshwater that’s available and safe for us to drink.
According to the UN-Water, about 4 billion people, two-thirds of the global population, experience severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year.
Water scarcity isn’t a phenomenon unique to dry climates. Even in countries with adequate water resources, scarcity often occurs due to collapsed or poor infrastructure, contamination, pollution, or armed conflict.
Nevertheless, innovative and water-efficient design — no matter its scale — can save water and, thus, save lives.
The following are three examples of water-efficient architectural designs that contribute significantly to the well-being of their communities and our planet.
The Warka Tower (Multiple Locations)
Around 13,000 cubic kilometers of water hang suspended as humidity in the air around us. In nature, many insect and plant species can meet their water needs from the air. Thanks to a “Warka Tower“, some rural communities without groundwater access can now do so, too.
Developed by the Italian architect Arturo Vittori, the Warka Tower stands about ten meters tall. It’s a low-tech solution made of natural materials that harvests water from the atmosphere and collects it in its plump body that resembles a flower vase. The Warka Towers can produce up to 100,000 litres of water annually.
“Today, the design industry is increasingly segmented between different specialties,” Vittori said about his innovation. “We need to stop thinking in terms of scales and start thinking in terms of solutions by forming multidisciplinary teams.”
So far, Vittori and his colleagues have built 12 prototypes of the Warka Tower in Ethiopia, Haiti, Cameroon, Togo, and Italy.
Cambodia is among the most vulnerable countries to climate change, with irregular rainfall patterns already causing draughts and floods. Many villages rely on polluted wells for their water supply.
The village of Sneung, situated in the Battambang province in Northern Cambodia, was no exception until the Hong Kong architecture studio Orient Occident Atelier built the WaterHall in the village.
WaterHall is no ordinary village well: This multi-purpose structure harvests rainwater, acts as a civic center for community gatherings, and it’s possible to store reusable jugs in its basin.
“By storing a series of ceramic vessels in the building, this encourages locals to stop using disposable bottles to collect water, mitigating environmental pollution problems caused by excessive plastic use,” said Orient Occident Atelier co-founder Magic Kwan, to Dezeen, which longlisted this project for a design award in the small building category in 2020.
Bilbao Arena (Spain)
In advanced economies, up to 60 percent of the urban freshwater is used on lawns. Likewise, the manicured grass of the sports centers and football fields requires a massive amount of water to maintain the bright green color; a full-sized grass pitch uses up to 100,000 litres of water per day. But could football stadiums produce their own water to cut waste?
Bilbao Arena, a major sports complex in Spain’s Basque Country, provides a positive answer to this question. Built on a hilly train by the architects Javier Pérez Uribarri and Nicolás Espinosa Barrientos, Bilbao Arena resembles a massive futuristic tree. It has a permeable facade shaped like leaves in various shades of green.
An unconventional design feature for a structure as such, the roof of Bilbao Arena boasts a rainwater harvesting cistern that mitigates the need to employ additional water for the arena’s needs.
Furthermore, any wastewater from the swimming pools in the complex gets stored in an innovative cistern in the basement to be used by the municipality to clean Bilbao’s streets.