Warka Water

Written by Alessandra Contessa, translated by Maria Letizia Pazzi (IT Version)

Reporting from the front, the Venice 15th International Architecture Exhibition, was inaugurated in May by Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena and it has recently ended. «Reporting from the front – explains Aravena – aims to show to a wider audience the meaning of improving the quality of life while working under difficult circumstances and facing pressing challenges; it is aimed at explaining the skills that are necessary to be in the front line and try to conquer new territories. Such architectures, despite the scarce resources, enhance what is available instead of protesting for what is missing».
The 2016 Biennial has thus boosted the architectural research that expresses a different point of view, transforming the slogan «Creativity against scarce means» into a modus operandi. The Giardino delle Vergini, placed in the Arsenal, may seem the end of the exposition, but on the right, between the trees, an impressive 10-metre-high bamboo structure, called Warka Water, is visible in the distance; such project sprang from the mind of architect Arturo Vittori, founder of the Architecture and Vision study.
When Vittori visited Ethiopia, he acknowledged the nature of the ordinary problems African people face, especially the lack of drinking water; local people are indeed forced to travel many kilometres in order to reach unhealthy groundwater sources, which often cause the spread of several diseases. Such difficult conditions led to a project based on the exploitation of air through the condensation of water in the atmosphere, which shall produce drinking water for Third World countries.

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The underlying revolutionary idea behind Aravena’s project fully reflects the crucial characteristics of the 2016 Biennale; the work is indeed characterised by simple materials, such as bamboo or reed, for the external structure, an internally attached polyethylene net and a cistern for water harvesting, which indigenous population can easily build in a short time. Nowadays the transformation of air into water is no news, for instance dehumidifiers may be found in several houses. The real invention consists in the exploitation of natural phenomena, such as temperature range, to achieve with a rather easy procedure the same result without employing electricity. The polyethylene net, supported by the bamboo reticular mesh, collects the atmosphere water particles and transports them inside of a cistern placed at the centre of the tower, where rain water is harvested. A hundred litres of water per day can be produced by means of easy and entirely natural methods; such figure may vary depending on climatic conditions and geographical position. Therefore Warka Water is the symbol of a new frontier for architectural and technological development; it has completely changed the ordinary concept of technology, which mainly concerns the field of industrial production. The Biennale of Aravena was a real trend reversal, since it aimed to pinpoint the environmental and social issues. Such topics have been overshadowed for too long by a millionaire architecture, which did not satisfy the needs of society. The whole world has been ravaged by the scourges of poverty, climate change, deforestation, lack of drinking water, which have exposed the damage caused by consumerism and globalization. Therefore, a drastic change was necessary to save the future of the planet. Unfortunately, only few people offer their own intelligence and skills in order to attempt to stem such tragic events. The path to follow is tortuous, but it may lead to great results, especially thanks to Warka Water by Arturo Vittori. A working prototype, which ensures water resources for the inhabitants and has also become a real meeting place, has already been installed in Dorze, a small village in the South-West of Ethiopia.

Another active prototype, along with 13 copies created for exhibitions, is located in Bomarzo, at the architect’s house; the creation of many more Warkas to place in appropriate places, after specific field tests, represents the goal to achieve. Installations in Colombia, Nepal and Haiti have been planned. The challenge is to find a financier who is willing to invest his own money in a project that could help reduce the problem of drinking water. Alejandro Aravena chose, as a symbol of the Biennale, a photo of German archaeologist Marie Reiche standing on a ladder in the middle of the desert, trying to study the Nazca lines. Such image clearly encourages designers to build no barrier between themselves and the infinite field of architectural experimentation, to look beyond the apparent limits of a society that can and must pave the way for new changes aimed at respecting and protecting the human beings and the environment.
Warka Water is then one of the projects that best embodies the slogan «Creativity against scarce means», the message the Biennale aims to send to the world.

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