How design influenced Africa’s only waterbank school

Written by Sam Wakoba

Images by David Turnbull, Aggrey Maganga

“I teach Architectural Design at The Cooper Union School of Architecture in New York City, so for me, design is my life’s work,” Turnbull says.

“I have been reading books that were written in the 14th century that explain how to make buildings in semi- arid regions. Climate adaptation is not a new problem. Things just got worse,” he says.

“At PITCHAfrica we believe that design should make a difference for everyone, not just for the elites of the world, making already very good lives a little better.”

The Waterbank School also takes talent seriously. Internationally-famous football player Samuel Eto’o, from Cameroon, is committed to building football academies and has already built one in his home country, but is also involved in the Waterbank Campus.

The community is very proud of their association with Eto’o, and many of the people who worked on the project follow him on social media. At the moment, PITCHAfrica is designing a Waterbank District for a new town in the Niger Delta, which includes two schools and mixed-use buildings.

“We think it is important that we can demonstrate the viability of this approach in an urban area,” says Turnbull of the Niger project. “There are so many situations in rapidly-growing cities where water and sanitation are major problems.”

In 2013, the Waterbank School was named the ‘Greenest School on Earth’ by the US Green Building Council, and this year the Waterbank Campus was nominated as a 2015 Design of the Year by London’s Design Museum.

PITCHAfrica says rainwater harvesting represents a sustainable form of water management, which brings considerable health benefits for communities and creates opportunities for sustainable forms of agriculture.

The girls' dormitory, which harvests and stores up to 300 000 litres annually in its underground cistern, is one of seven new buildings that form this campus.

The dormitory, for 100 girls, has been developed to actively facilitate girls' continued enrolment in school, and the activities needed to educate them on issues of sanitation, menstrual hygiene, addressing gender- based violence, nutritional support, leadership and environmental initiatives – and to harvest, filter and manage water.

It is a safe place, away from the boys and men in the school community - a protected, walled compound with a secret garden and a small house for the matron, a surrogate mother who looks after the girls. The matron’s house includes a pair of latrines for night-time use, and showers.

“We are currently working with the school and our local partners, developing programmes at the Waterbank girls dormitory to realise its full potential,” adds Turnbull.

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