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WarkaWater Couples Form and Function to Provide Drinking Water

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WarkaWater tower, right, complements the surrounding Ethiopian landscape.

For some, works of art are meant to be observed from afar, appreciated and contemplated, then left alone. For others, like Italian Artist, Architect and Industrial Designer Arturo Vittori, art embodies a more functional role. His pieces take on all aspects of “design,” drawing inspiration for form as well as function, to inspire and give back.

While visiting the Horn of Africa, Vittori observed children who were unable to attend school due to the complicated and time-consuming process of retrieving water for their families. In response, he collaborated on a structure that seems to magically pool water out of thin air. No less creative or striking than a Renaissance painting or Greek sculpture, Vittori’s “WarkaWater tower” stands 30 feet tall, cleverly utilizing its woven bamboo shell and fabric body to collect drinking water from the air via condensation.

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Architect and creator, Arturo Vittori

Architecture and Vision, a cutting-edge practice co-founded by Vittori, conceptualized the tower to jointly improve water access in arid areas while embracing and enhancing its surrounding environment. How? “It is intended to be like a part of Ethiopia,” says Vittori, referring to the tower’s country-origin of inspiration. “Its design is a reflection of the local culture.” He explained to me that his designs can, and must, change depending on their contexts. So, in the northwest region of Ethiopia, WarkaWater takes the form of a woven basket. In other areas or countries that might benefit from such a structure—Vittori mentions Kenya, but left other possibilities open—the tower would assume another form.

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WarkaWater tower prototype on view

The name “Warka” is borrowed from Ethiopia’s indigenous fig tree. Vittori describes it as “an institution,” its shade being used for public gatherings, classroom spaces and more. Considering that Ethiopia has suffered severe deforestation over the past 40 years, it is easy to see how “Warka” holds more symbolic value than by its appearance alone. And with the capacity to collect up to 100 liters (26.5 gallons) of water per day, the tower’s symbolic value is reified. (The benefits don’t end there: Only four people are needed to construct the towers, and assembly materials can be found locally.)

Architecture and Vision has partnered with students from universities in Addis AbabaVenice and Lebanon to improve the WarkaWater prototype. Over the course of three weeks, students participate in workshops that will help development conclude by the end of 2014. Vittori stressed to me that once the tower is perfected, research must be conducted to address how it will function logistically. For example, will production be organized by a village as a whole, or by a family? Further, how will the tower be viewed from a cultural perspective?

Projects like this one—projects that propel forward the ideals of functional art and global outreach—uniquely illustrate the act of doing good. Though collecting water from the air is not a brand new idea (Pliny the Elder’s Historia Naturalis tells of a fog-centric rendition 2,000 years ago), Vittori and his collaborators have reimagined a solution that has the potential to turn a bad situation into a beautiful one.

One WarkaWater tower costs $550 and, though the project is not yet coupled with a foundation, donations are accepted through Architecture and Vision’s Contact page. To stay current with the project, follow Architecture and Vision on Facebook.

All photography courtesy of Architecture and Vision.

Connect with Piper @PiperStullLane

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