Warka Water

Place: ethiopia, Africa
Sustainable development of small rural communities Sustainable development of small rural communities
Total Budget: € 1.605.966,00 | Period: From May 2012 To


Warka Water is an experimental project, it is vertical structure created by the Italian studio ‘Architecture and Vision’ (AV). It is designed to harvest potable water from the atmosphere providing sustainable and affordable water sources to remote communities in the rural Ethiopia that are facing water poverty issues. It is realized with biodegradable materials and conceived to integrate visually and aesthetically into the traditional villages. Although it is still in an exploratory phase, the aim is to collect an average up to 100 liters of potable water a day. It is designed to be easily built and maintained by local villagers without electrical tools. AV believes that WW can be a stepping-stone that empowers communities to build greater independence. Beyond providing potable water, the target is to invigorate the local economy through manufacturing the towers locally and provide women and children opportunities to invest their time in care, education and other productive activities.


Italian Development Cooperation - Ethiopia

Lead applicant

Italian Cultural Institute in Addis Abeba - Ethiopia

Initiative partner

The Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction and City Development - Ethiopia

Initiative partner

Università Iuav di Venezia - Italy

Initiative partner

Architecture and Vision - Italy

Initiative partner

Architettura e Design

Air always contains a certain amount of water, which means water can be taken directly and locally from the environment. Warka Water aims to empower water-poor communities with the ability to produce clean water from the atmosphere using a passive system (no energy consumption) and natural phenomena (gravity and condensation). The Warka tower is designed for multiple harvesting methods – rain, fog and dew – and is estimated to collect, in a year avarage, up to 100 liters of water a day.

The WW inspired by several sources. Various plants and animals in nature have evolved abilities of harvesting water from the air to survive in the most hostile environments on Earth thanks to the geometry and to a unique micro - and nano-scale structural features on their surfaces. By studying the Namib beetle’s, the Lotus flower’s leaves, the spider’s web treads and the integrated fog collection system in cactus, we are defining specific materials with special coatings able to enhance the dew condensation phenomena, to catch fog and rain water and to store it. The natural airflow system has been inspired by the structure of the termite hives. We also looked at local cultures, incorporating Ethiopian traditional artisanal and construction techniques still visible in the in the vernacular architecture and the basket-weaving skills.

Biomimicry Biomimicry is a new discipline that studies nature’s best ideas and then applies these designs and processes to address human problems. Living organisms have evolved over time to have well-adapted structures and materials through natural selection. Biomimetics have given rise to new technologies inspired by biological solutions at macro and nano-scales. Humans have analysed Nature for answers to our problems and engineering challenges throughout our existence. Nature provides examples of self-healing, tolerance and resistance to external environments, hydrophobicity, self-assembly, and harnessing solar energy.
Cactus Spines Cactus species live in arid environments and for the survival lies in its efficient fog collection system. This unique system is composed of well-distributed clusters of conical spines and trichomes on the cactus stem; each spine contains three integrated parts that have different roles in the fog collection process according to their surface structural features. The gradient of the Laplace pressure, the gradient of the surface-free energy and multi-function integration endow the cactus with an efficient fog collection system. Cactus has also a great ability to store water. A fully grown saguaro which can grow to be over 20 m is be able to absorb as much as 760 L of water during a rainstorm.
Craftsmanship Weaving, pottery and basketry are ancient crafts developed in many countries of the world but unfortunately not practiced anymore. In Ethiopia, this know-how is alive and the hand-made items are still an essential part in every household. This capacity to use local and natural material to build functional, beautiful and biodegradable object has been adopted in the WW project. This tradition should not be lost but rather enhanced.
Lotus Flower The lotus effect refers to the very high water repellence (superhydrophobicity) resulting in self-cleaning properties, as exhibited by the leaves of the lotus flower. Dirt particles are picked up by water droplets due to a complex micro- and nanoscopic architecture on the surface, which minimizes the droplet’s adhesion to said surface. Scientists have found that the basis for both of these properties (self-cleaning and water-repellent) lies in the rough structure of the surface of the lotus leaves. When water droplets are applied to the lotus leaf, they sit lightly on the tips of the hydrophobic protrusions as if on a bed of nails. This combined structure traps a layer of air in between the surface of the leaf and the water droplet. Hence, the water is not allowed to wet the surface and is easily displaced.
Namib Beetle The Namib Desert beetle (Stenocara gracilipes) is a species of beetle that is native to the Namib Desert of southern Africa. The Namib Desert is one of the most arid areas of the world. The beetle is able to survive by collecting water from early morning fog on its bumpy back surface. To drink the water, the beetle stands on a small ridge of sand using its long, spindly legs. Facing the breeze, with its body angled at 45°, the beetle catches fog droplets on its hardened wings. Its head faces upwind, and its stiff, bumpy outer wings are spread against the damp breeze. Minuscule water droplets from the fog gather on its wings; there the droplets stick to hydrophilic (water-loving) bumps, which are surrounded by waxy, hydrophobic troughs. Droplets flatten as they make contact with the hydrophilic surfaces, preventing them from being blown away by wind and providing a surface for other droplets to attach. Accumulation continues until the combined droplet weight overcomes the water’s electrostatic attraction to the bumps as well as any opposing force of the wind. With 30 km/h breeze, such a droplet would remain attached to the wing until it grows to roughly 5 mm in diameter. At that point, it will roll down the beetle’s back to its mouthparts.
Spider Web Dew naturally collects on the surface of the spider web. This is due to the hydrophobicity of web fibers, which means that the surface of these fibers naturally repels water.
Termite hive Termites build their hive in mounds with a chimney at the top that opens to the outside. This arrangement creates an induced airflow, also called the stack effect. The chimney breaks the surface boundary layer and is exposed to higher wind speeds compared to the inlets in the ground. The unidirectional flow draws fresh air from near the ground surface into the nest, where it passes on through the chimney and ultimately to the outside. This airflow together with the difference between temperatures at ground level and at the top of the Warka tower provides the necessary condition for air moisture condensation.
Vernacular Architecture Ethiopia’s rural areas are rich in example of Vernacular Architecture, those houses are built with local materials and traditional construction techniques. There are different typologies with different sizes and shapes depending on the culture of the area where the houses are built. Vernacular Architectures usually meet specific needs, accommodate cultural and social values, and relate to existing economic possibilities. In Ethiopia, there are 88 ethnics groups and 90 individual languages spoken. Most poor families (75%) share their sleeping quarters with livestock, and 40% of children sleep on the floor. The average family size is six or seven, living in a 30-square-meter mud and thatch hut, with less than two hectares of land to cultivate.

Ethiopia is endowed with abundant natural resources and showcases a wide range of altitudinal and climatic variation, from deserts to rainforests. This diversity in agroecology enables the country to produce numerous kinds of crops and livestock. Nevertheless, Ethiopia has limited water supply systems and road infrastructure in place, and the country has suffered from recurring droughts that caused food shortages in the last 20 years. Ethiopia’s major health problem is the spread of diseases caused by the lack of water and sanitation. Only 44% of the general population has access to safe drinking water. In rural areas, that drops to just 34% (WHO/UNICEF March 2012). Water quality is very poor and often contaminated by human and animal waste. The impact on the health of communities is shocking – an estimated number of 54,000 children die each year directly from diarrhoeal and 217,000 more die from related illnesses, such as malnutrition, pneumonia and malaria (UNICEF February 2012)

Context Statistics Rural Ethiopian villages lack the water infrastructure to guarantee the water supply needed for survival.
Ethiopian child suffering from malnutrition During our visit to the North East region of Ethiopia, we witnessed the real human scenario and the dramatic situation they are facing and its impact on their lives and survival. Most children in these regions suffer from illnesses related to famine and water poverty issues.
Ethiopian children doing household chores Instead of spending their time in education and cultural activities, children in Ethiopia are forced to help their parents in accomplishing household chores due to harsh living and survival conditions.
Ethiopian women and children cultivating Women and children in the North East region of Ethiopia are cultivating their lands and producing numerous kinds of crops and livestock to survive there
Natural Resources An Ethiopian landscape showing a rich ecosystem in its diversity and natural resources.
Water Quality Water quality presents a major challenge, particularly in regions with water sources that are unhygienic and unsafe to use. Ethiopian villagers use a traditional method of digging in the sand of a riverbank to collect water that has seeped through the sand. This method, albeit natural, is an inefficient filter and cannot purify the water of diseases and parasites.
Women Collecting Water Ethiopian women in a rural village are spending most of their time in collecting water using old plastic gallons from a dry and unsafe pond.

The WW project began in 2012 by the Italian studio ‘Architecture and Vision’ with the support of external collaborators. The concept has evolved since and tested with 9 full-scale prototypes built, an updated version is currently under development. Moreover the project has been constructed for test and temporary show in different countries in 3 continents. The main tests and research activities are conducted in a rural location in central Italy, with full scale prototypes and materials samples. This ongoing activity of daily experiments has brought the project to important results. In parallel the selection of potential sites in Ethiopia to locate the first pilot prototype is started. The main characteristic of the site will be the lack of potable water and the urgency for the community living in that area for a solution. Other important factors are related to the local environment characteristics such as pressure, average temperatures, humidity, dew point and precipitations.

Filming Every day we monitor using infrared temperature sensors combined with meteorological station and a time-lapse camera on different types of materials. Thus, the gathered data is associated with every single frame then compared to understand the process and the conditions of the dew’s natural phenomenon.
Full-scale Prototypes Warka Water 1 version 1.0 : 2012 - Addis Abeba, Ethiopia Warka Water 1 version 1.1 : 2012 - Venice, Italy Warka Water 1 version 1.2 : 2012 - Venice, Italy Warka Water 1 version 1.3 : 2013 - Paris, France Warka Water 1 version 1.4 : 2013 - Munich, Germany Warka Water 1 version 1.5 : 2013 - Rome, Italy Warka Water 1 version 1.6 : 2014 - Bomarzo, Italy Warka Water 2 version 2.0 : 2014 - Kaslik, Lebanon Warka Water 3 version 3.0 : 2014 - Sao Paulo, Brazil Warka Water 3 version 3.1 : 2014 - Currently in the design development phase
Monitoring Equipment We are implementing an Arduino based device of our own creation that we named 'Warkino' to study the harvesting abilities of different types of materials under different climatic conditions. This instrument continuously registers the following parameters: air relative humidity, pressure, dew point temperature, wind direction and wind speed, as well as material surface temperatures using an infrared sensor, and finally the amount and quality of collected water. Readings from the device are accessible online in realtime via a web interface, and in the absence of an internet connection the data is stored locally on an internal memory which can be retrieved at a later time. This device is fundamental for our mission making it possible to monitor and select potential sites for Warka installation as well as choosing adequate harvesting material in the near future. The amount of data collected in a years time from such devices dispersed in several areas will be crucial for the future implementations of Warka towers.
Parametric Design WW is designed using parametric modeling systems such as Grasshopper, a plugin of McNeel Rhinoceros, as well as Autodesk Inventor, have been used. The WW complex 3D geometry is the result of a algorithm that has been set to permit, during the project development, to be easily manipulated to quickly generate multiple iterations.
Web Interface The meteo/material monitoring equipment, uses infrared temperature sensors combined with a time-lapse camera to analyse constantly prototypes of different types of materials. The recorded time-lapse frames are combined with the analyzed data helping us understand the process and the conditions of dew formation and fog harvesting.
Cables Test We are running several experiments and one of them is the cables tension
Mounting Warka Water Mounting Warka Water Version 1.6 in Bomarzo during a foggy morning

Warka Water is conceived for remote rural villages in Ethiopia. The villagers live in a beautiful natural environment but often without running water, electricity, a toilet or a shower. To survive here, women and children walk everyday for miles towards shallow and unprotected ponds, where the water is often contaminated with human and animal waste, parasites, and diseases. They collect the water using dry carved pumpkins and carry the water back in old plastic containers, which are extremely heavy. With Warka Water, women and children can invest their time in care, education and other socially productive activities. Furthermore, the Warka tower design includes a canopy that is built around the structure, which will provide shade and a social gathering place for the entire community.

Ethiopian women and children Rural Ethiopian communities experience the acute problems of water poverty on a daily basis. Women and children are forced to walk for hours to fetch water, which are contaminated with parasites and diseases.
The Warka Tree: A Social Gathering Place The name “Warka Water” comes from the Warka Tree (Ficus Vasta), a giant wild fig tree native to Ethiopia. The Warka tree constitutes a very important part of the Ethiopian culture and ecosystem. People in the villages gather under a tree for community meetings, elder councils, and classes. It is often windy and dusty, with not enough space for everyone to sit in the shade. The Warka tower’s canopy aims to create the space for circular gathering.

The project is being developed by the Italian studio ‘Architecture and Vision’ with the support of external collaborators. A wide team collaborated in the completion of the prior prototypes. The 3.1 version team members are

- Arturo Vittori - Architect -  Founder
- Gianni Massironi - Scenographer -  Executive Director
- Raffi Tchakerian - Industrial Desiner - Project Manager
- Precious Desperts - Fashion Designer - Construction Team Leader
- Andrea Awaida - Architecture Graduate Student - Communication
- Elias Farah - Architecture Graduate Student - Visual Artist.

- Mark Svejda - Attorney- Legal Advisor
- Jina Bae - Entrepreneur - Financial Advisor
- Pavel Chmátal - Technology Manager - Technology Transfer Advisor
- Tadesse Girmay Gebreegziabher - Architect - Local Project Manager

Local: Italian Development Cooperation in Ethiopia
Technical: -
 Autodesk  - McNeel Rhinoceros  - Maxon.

Arturo Vittori: The Architect Arturo and the team at Architecture and Vision were inspired to design the Warka tower after visiting the small isolated villages in Ethiopia. Starting from the initial sketches of the tower, Arturo has guided the team through the designing and building of all prototypes, leading the project as the director and CEO of Warka Water.
Building Prototypes A number of architects, engineers, designers, students and external collaborators have participated in constructing the prototypes, building and assembling all components by hand.
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Team Behing WW a small team with a large vision

We are facing various challenges during WW's development. For the structure we are working to create a tall, lightweight and self-supporting one without compromising the ground with excavation or earth movement. The intention is also to build WW out of natural, sustainable and biodegradable material using a simple, low-tech and ecological approach. It took nearly four months to design and build the first prototype. We are focused on finding easy and effective ways that the tower can be autonomously built and maintained by the villagers. After a number of iterations, our latest prototype is 10m-tall and only 60kg in weight, consisting of 5 modules that can be assembled by 6 people without using scaffolding. In parallel we have conducted experiments to improve the water collection not only by the geometry and shape but also experimenting with several sets of material and coating in various environments - arid, coastal and vegetal - to optimize the water harvesting capability and quality

Obstacles Building a prototype for the first time in Ethiopia after our visit to the Ethiopian villages.

WW mainly uses local and natural biodegradable materials. The set up doesn’t required excavation works or ground modification. It is a temporarily structure designed to not leave traces on the environment after removal. It doesn’t extract water from the ground. Moreover, water generated by the Warka tower can also be used for irrigation, reforestation, and ecosystem regeneration. As part of training local villagers, we plan to institute a water management program that teaches the best practices of using, distributing and recycling harvested water. Through this program, we hope the villagers can understand our relationship with the environment and move away from the “slash-and-burn” agriculture, which is responsible for the deforestation.

Bamboo Bamboo is an environmentally friendly material, it is biodegradable. The plant is one of the fastest growing on earth, has very high tensile and compressive strength along its fibres, it is flexible it is a very good material for construction. It is growing in in many regions of the world and Ethiopia is the major producer of bamboo in Africa. Another major advantage is its cost compared to available alternatives.
Local Stone In case of soft ground it is recommended to create an isolation layer between the bamboo and the ground. The humidity from the earth could damage the bamboo after some time. To prevent this situation from happening, blocks of stone or small stones could be used to create an insulation pillow all around the circle ad the base of WW.
Slash-and-Mulch As part of the Water Management Training, communities can adopt an alternative to slash-and-burn agriculture: the slash-and-mulch approach that uses green fertilizers from other plants, agricultural waste, and edible forest permaculture. The surplus water from the Warka tower can facilitate successful implementation of these principles.
Textile Mesh It is one of the main elements of the WW, it is where water is condensed from the fog and hight humidity. We are conducting intensive experiments to test several materials with the objective to improve the water collection performance of the mesh. The final material will have specific characteristic that we are defining and could be made of bio-degradable polythene plastic made from sugar canes.

The WW project is currently in the R&D phase, the first test pilots scheduled to launch in the first quarter of 2015. Once the project will be fully developed, we believe incorporating the tower in remote villages can lead to numerous impactful initiatives:
–Education:Women and children can engage in productive activities such as care, education and crafts that can lead to self-sufficiency
–Economy:Manufacturing the tower locally and sourcing indigenous materials can create jobs and boost the local economy
–Society:The tower’s canopy creates a gathering place for the community
–Agriculture: Water produced by the Warka tower can be used for irrigation and farming
–Environment: the water management training program can introduce the principles of permaculture
–Technology: Future developments include a shared internet connection point for rural villages, which can connect the isolated communities and bring valuable realtime information (e.g., weather forecast, market prices of crops).

Warka tower The Warka tower integrated in the Ethiopian village

WW can be fabricated locally in series and distributed as kit of parts. It can be easily transported without need of vehicles and built and maintained by the local communities using simple tools. With training and guidance, the locals can easily assemble WW in a few hours and maintain the Warka tower without the support of external people. This local know-how can then be transferred to surrounding communities, with villagers helping install other towers in the area and creating an economy based on the assembly and maintenance of the towers. This can expedite the scaling of Warka Water in the region. Following the prototype development and testing phases, we intend to start manufacturing the WW on a large scale, which can bring the material’s cost down to $1000 per tower significantly less than other water relief options available.

Warka Water - News The Warka Water project has been featured in the Comitato Scientifico Del Comune di Milano's news.
Warka Water - Exhibition Warka Water has been exhibited at the 2013 Architectural Biennale in Venice, Italy
Warka Water - TV The Warka Water project has been featured on the Lip Tv show.
Warka Water - TV The Warka Water project has been featured on ZAK Breaking News.
Warka Water - Workshop The 6th prototype of Warka Water built at the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik in Lebanon during an intensive workshop in 2014, featured on MTV news.
Warka Water 1.6 on RAI 2 Arturo Vittori talking about Warka Water 1.6 at the 'I Fatti Vostri' show on Italian national TV RAI 2 on October 7, 2014.
Warka Water 3.0 at Virada Sustentável Warka Water was exhibited at the Virada Sustentável event in São Paulo - Brazil
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Arab Water World The Warka Water project has been featured in the Arab Water World magazine.
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Damn The Warka Water project has been featured in the Damn magazine.
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Design Diaries The Warka Water project has been featured in the Design Diaries magazine.
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Dirt The Warka Water project has been featured in the Dirt magazine.
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Domus Israel The Warka Water project has been featured in the Domus magazine.
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf LifeStyles The Warka Water project has been featured in the LifeStyles magazine.
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Links and Websites WW has been featured in many cultural and scientific blogs and institutional websites
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Tijd The Warka Water project has been featured in the Tijd magazine.