Ernest Beck | Projects

Safe Agua

A woman in the campamento tests the Relava kitchen workstation prototype designed by Jacqueline Black and K.C. Cho and manufactured by a Chilean company. Photos courtesy Designmatters/Art Center

The first collaboration between Designmatters at Art Center College of Design and Chile’s Un Techo para mi País creates fresh ideas for water usage in a Santiago slum.

For the teachers and students in the Environmental and Product Design departments at Art Center College of Design who signed up for the Safe Agua project in Chile, the first engagement with the problem was very close to home. An “empathy exercise” at Art Center’s Pasadena, California, campus, before a two-week field trip to Chile, forced the 15-member team to experience what it’s like to limit their daily water intake to one 5-gallon bucket, and laid the groundwork for understanding the challenges faced by the slum families.

That was readily apparent once the team arrived in Campamento San José, one of the main slums in Santiago. Residents there have access to clean water that is delivered three times a week by municipal truck — but they don’t have facilities or viable systems for running water, the lack of which complicates simple tasks such as bathing, cooking and laundry. For example, the 20 families living in Campamento spend an estimated 500 hours a week on laundry. Most residents bathe “by parts,” or pouring a can of water on separate areas of the body.

One of 10 MILA laundry centers constructed by Un Techo par mia País; design concept by Stephanie Stalker

Based on work with the Chile-based nonprofit Un Techo para mí Pais (A Roof for My Country), field research led to plans for six distinct but interrelated projects that address specific water-related needs. “This community has a unique problem,” explains Mariana Amatullo, vice president of Designmatters at Art Center, which initiated the project, referring to the availability of water but the lack of running-water systems. “The challenge was how to maximize the quality of life through solutions that allow water to be used more efficiently.”

In just over a year’s time, three of the projects have moved rapidly from research to implementation and testing:

Ducha Halo — a portable shower made from easily obtainable and inexpensive parts (from any Home Depot–like hardware store, for the equivalent of $17) that can be easily assembled. A DIY kit includes a simple pump, valves and hosing that yields a 15-minute long hand shower with water heated over coals.

Testing a Ducho Halo shower prototype designed by Jessica Yeh and Narbeh Dereghishian

ReLava — provides a kitchen workstation that is a sanitary and efficient way to wash dishes indoors, usually an arduous task. It repurposes simple plastic tubs into working sinks held by a wire frame that hangs from the wall (the runoff water can be reused).

Mila — a community laundry facility that replaces the tedious job of hand washing. Sponsored by consumer-goods company Unilever, the facilities are equipped with a gravity-fed water supply system and low-water-consumption washing machines, which provide not only a comfortable, hygienic place to launder clothes but also a community gathering spot (10 are already in operation). Moreover, residents can earn extra money by doing laundry for other families.

Diagram of the six interrelated Safe Agua projects. Artist: Ping Zhu

Three other projects are in earlier stages of development: for water purification (Agua Segura); a communications strategy to encourage innovation (Index de Innovación); and a running-water system (Gota a Gota, or “drop by drop”). What they have in common is a community-based model of design and social entrepreneurship. “We don’t believe in giving solutions to the people,” notes Julián Ugarte, an industrial designer who heads Un Techo’s Social Innovation Center and worked on Safe Agua, “but creating the solutions together.”

Editor's note: A book about Safe Agua will be published by DAP in spring 2011. To see Elizabeth Bayne's documentary film about the project, go here.

Posted in: Product Design, Social Good

Comments [1]

I really like how they are coming up with easy ways for these families to use their water more easily and less time consuming. It takes a lot of research to find to cheapest and simplest ways so that these projects can be distributed a greater distance. I think their idea with the shower is brilliant and would feel like a luxury to those people in Chili, especially the fact that they found a way for it to be heated. I also think the idea of having an indoor cleaning station for dishes and laundry is a great idea. People don’t realize how hard a task it is to do outside where you can never really get it clean with the dirt surrounding you. I looked more into this and learned that they also use that space to have community computers and teaching sessions for the children. It’s nice how they really take advantage of the space inside to gather with friends and family.
One of my main concerns, that I think is important to deal with, is to really pay attention to ways to keep the water clean. It says that they are delivered water three times a week by a truck, but they are giving to them in containers that are really hard to clean because of the skinny neck to the container. When you have to store water for long periods of time it is hard for them to stay clean. They can use chlorine, but chlorine is difficult to use when you don’t have the correct measuring devises. It would also be important to have a filter to remove all the byproducts so this way they can actually enjoy some water.
I looked up ways to solve this solution and I found a great one. They use large buckets to put the water in, this way it is easier to clean. It has an attachable measuring devise to use the accurate amount of chlorine; chlorine is used because it’s fast and used all the time for cleaning activities. At the bottom of the container is a water spout for easy access to the water and the best part about it is the easy applied filter pack. I know a lot of people are finding ways to help solve the many problems families are having because they live in bad areas. Most people take advantage of what a lot of people would consider a luxury, that’s why I hope I have the opportunity to go to Kenya this summer with my cousin and give some of it away.
Suzanne Manuel

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