Community Center Dormitory Schools Stadiums

Waterbanks / PITCHAfrica


WATERBANKS – Desription fom Professor David Turnbull.

Waterbanks is an initiative of PITCHAfrica, a not-for-profit Design and Research group that I co-founded with Jane Harrison, and where I am Design Director. We work across the African continent, with some of the most disadvantaged communities in the World.

¨The premise is simple. Given the impact of Climate Change on weather patterns, rainfall and other forms of precipitation might it be both necessary and desirable that building types are developed that can harvest and store as much water as possible, providing enough capacity that the increasingly erratic time divisions between the ‘rains’ can be ameliorated. Could this provide an incentive for the widespread provision of locally based, dispersed and decentralized infrastructures for water supply? And, finally could this model, which demands a level of community based stewardship that piped, linear, centralized systems do not require, provide the circumstances for invention in relation to the political processes that govern water-use generally, and ultimately ‘survival’?¨

Many of the challenges that arise in communities stricken by poverty and disease stem from a lack of clean water, and a lack of access to a feasible water supply. Development initiatives rightfully focus on the urgency of water provision but the extreme complexity of the social issues that surround water provision are all too often beyond the capabilities and resources of the organizations providing the technological expertise. Additionally, the international development community has focused on ground water resources since a UN edict in the 1980’s. Ground-water, and surface-water supplies are often seriously contaminated, heavily fluoridated or contain concentrations of toxins like arsenic.

Bore-hole wells drilled into underground aquifers frequently break, and without engineers or tools, remain broken. Aquifers sink and are not replenished. According to the UNEP, 60% of the bore-hole wells drilled in 2004 failed within a year. More than 320 million people living in Africa do not have access to clean water. Many of these are children, particularly young girls, who cannot go to school because they have to walk miles to collect water from rivers or streams, dirty water, instead. Dirty water kills around 4500 children a day.

Women and children collecting water from the river which is often contaminated by residual agricultural run-off, or in dry periods not there at all… this is one of the fundamental issues that PITCHAfrica addresses.

Many people do not know that there is 13 times the amount of water needed, falling as rain, across the African continent, and that most people who do not have access to clean water live in areas with more than 300mm of rainfall annually. In many areas of the Sub-Saharan region suffering from extreme poverty and challenging conditions in relation to water access, nutrition and sanitation, have up to a meter of rain in the year, some much more. The distribution pattern of rainfall throughout the year is changing as a consequence of climate change, but erratic rainfall patterns – the arrival of the ‘rains’ earlier or later than expected, deluge followed by drought, makes rainwater harvesting and water storage more important than ever.

We are committed to demonstrating the overlooked potential of large scale community based rainwater harvesting initiatives, based on a local, dispersed, decentralized and non-linear approach to infrastructural construction; significantly, the potential of rainwater harvesting as a catalyst, instigating social transformation within a community by making carefully designed, low-cost, buildings, with significant water storage volumes, and integrated water filtration systems. We call these structures, ‘Waterbanks’. We have been focussing on Schools as in our experience ‘Waterbank Schools’ can become a significant resource in the community, addressing multiple issues simultaneously. In areas where Land Rights, and land ownership battles are common, Schools are built on land that is less contested. Schools have principles that embrace concepts of shared ownership, governance and accountability that transcend tribal differences. Within the precinct of a School the pursuit of gender equality is more achievable. Schools also have the capacity to attract sympathetic, like-minded people in community based organizations, foundations and non-governmental organizations, who can provide the funding and social support that is necessary in confronting some of the most intractable social issues that underpin poverty, and impact many people, girls and women in particular, profoundly.

We insist that Waterbank School Buildings are never ‘just’ schools, and we have found that it is possible to build twice the volume, with integrated water storage and filtration for the same cost as a typical four classroom school. So that while working with completely generic space standards and normative budgets that are familiar to every organization working in the International Development field, every school can have a cistern and clean water supply, can be a tool for teaching children about environmental issues, an attractor and catalyst for the community, and effect environmental and social change.

The discipline of building at the lowest costs possible while providing more space, light, ventilation, protection, and a consistent water supply at school involves us in a process of design and development with local partners, NGOs, community leaders, teachers, students and their families that builds social engagement and an enduring commitment to people and place. In the past ten years we have designed and built a collection of high yield rainwater harvesting building types, invented and patented modular ceramic water filtration systems, and a structure that integrates rainwater harvesting and water storage into a sports stadium – bringing Africa’s passion for Football together with it’s greatest needs, water, nutrition and sanitation. The work depends upon a return to some of the fundamentals of Architecture and involves spatial, structural, material and technological invention at multiple scales, from the nano / micro-scale behavior of water percolation through ceramic water filtration membranes to the scale of buildings and accumulations of building types, to climatic, geographic, social and ecological patterning. A key idea behind all the work relates to a term, ‘reverse innovation’, used in the sense of looking back historically in order to look forward more effectively, but also in support of a reciprocity between advanced research and poor technique that makes the designs easily replicable, increasing impact.

How did we start?

In 2004 we were working on a speculative project in South Sudan, linking access to water to the catalytic power of football. This project for a football field that could harvest rainwater was exhibited in New York at The Van Alen Institute in 2006. It addressed water access, food security, health, education, gender equality and community development, simultaneously. We called it PITCHAfrica. Once the word was out, we established important relationships with Grassroots Soccer and Play Soccer International who were having real success using football to effect social change. The following year we were in Copenhagen, for the Metropolis Biennale, organized by the Copenhagen International Theatre, KIT, and the Danish Architecture Centre, and collaborating with the Homeless World Cup, an organization that is using the power of street football to end homelessness. While we were at the Tournament, Jane and I did calculations for the rainwater harvesting yields for the small Street Football Stadium that we were sitting in. The results were extraordinary, in excess of 1 million liters per year in a semi-arid region, and the space under the stands was more than adequate for classrooms, clinics or other community facilities. We knew then that a small stadium designed to catch the rain could be incredibly transformative.

Where PITCHAfrica started – The Homeless World Cup & the Metropolis Biennale / Copenhagen 2007

We organized a friendly game with players from Kenya and Uganda, made a video and drawings. We gave every African team documents explaining how a PITCHAfrica stadium worked. In early 2008 we met The Annenberg Foundation Board, and a few months later received a significant grant providing backing for project development and testing.

We built prototypes, and we conducted extensive research into water filtration options focusing on ceramic filters which can be made locally rather than expensive imports. We filed patents. We made projects.

Ceramic Water Filtration, using easy to make filtration pots, is a fundamental building block in our strategy for providing potable water for school communities. This photograph was taken in Prof. Wole Soboyejo’s Lab. Wole is a member of our Advisory Board – he is also the President of the African University of Science & Technology in Abuja, Nigeria.

In July 2010 The Annenberg Foundation supported work culminated in the construction a fullsize demonstration model of a PITCHAfrica stadium in Los Angeles, launched during the World Cup by South African actress Charlize Theron. This was televised in the USA and created considerable international attention.

On the back of this event we set up PITCHAfrica as a social enterprise in its own right. The rainwater-harvesting stadium was the flagship, and a wide variety of rainwater harvesting structures, water filtration devices and irrigation tools, were designed and ready to go. We wanted to develop PITCHAfrica rainwater harvesting demonstration centres in Southern Africa, West Africa and East Africa, but getting projects implemented was tough-going. We had become increasingly convinced that finding the right scale for an initial community based project was crucial. We knew that the cost of the stadium building, although very low in relation to comparable buildings in the USA or Europe had the potential to destabilize community development by putting too much investment in one place at the expense of neighboring areas, biasing migration patterns, and creating problematic population growth; especially true in pastoralist communities. Starting small had always seemed more appropriate, and a structure that could be copied easily and cost no more than 38,000 Euros or 50,000 US Dollars a more manageable target.

In 2008, we received funding from The Annenberg Foundation to support research and design development culminating in a live demonstration (complete with artificial rain and a live video feed from South Africa) in The Port of Los Angeles in 2010, timed to coincide with the Football World Cup in South Africa.

We struggled to work out viable partnerships in Southern Africa, trying to put together projects in Kwazulu Natal, ZA in 2011, and further north in Ndirande, Malawi in 2012, making grant applications and multiple project proposals. We failed. I was invited to be a Visiting Professor of Design and Innovation at The African University of Science and Technology, a Nelson Mandela institution in 2012, and we produced a strategic plan for a Waterbank Farm on the Campus in collaboration with AUST faculty including Prof. Wole Soboyejo and Prof. Albert Ayeni. In East Africa we had more success. Since late 2007 we had been in contact with a number of important Kenyans including Mohamed Ahmed and KHSSA, Kenyan Homeless Street Soccer Association, and Bob Munro at MYSA, the Mathare Youth Soccer Association, who were doing great work. I had met Wangari Maathai at the Cooper Union in New York and initiated a dialogue.


After an introduction from colleagues at the Mpala Conservancy in Laikipia, in early 2011 we received a call from Dr. Liz Rihoy, Director of the Zeitz Foundation, based on a neighboring Conservancy, Segera, and I went to Kenya for the first time. Kenya is an ideal place to implement community based rainwater harvesting initiatives. The geography and climate are perfect, and the presence of the United Nations Environment Program Headquarters in Nairobi an asset. Dr. Rihoy felt there was a great fit between our work and the Laikipia Unity Cup, a program the Zeitz Foundation had developed.

The LUC and Laikipia Unity Program use a Football Competition as a setting for environmental education. She was keen to see how we might bring PITCHAfrica to Laikipia. For us, a collaboration with the Zeitz Foundation was an excellent opportunity to realize the designs and technologies we had developed and demonstrate their transformative potential. Later that year we sent Daniel Gastfriend, as a PITCHAfrica intern, to work with the Zeitz Foundation and I made my first visit of many to Segera.

Travelling to Kenya in August 2011 to meet the Zeitz Foundation and to establish a strong connection to The Uasonyiro Primary school community.

Daniel spent time with the school community at Uaso Nyiro, near Nanyuki in Kenya’s semi-arid central highlands, and also worked on a Zeitz Foundation project that has since become the SATUBO, SAmburu, TUrkana and BOrana, traditional crafts enterprise. Then, in early 2012 the Zeitz Foundation obtained funding from Guernsey Overseas Aid for a school building at the Uaso Nyiro Primary School and asked us to propose a design that demonstrated PITCH principles. This was an opportunity to adapt one of our designs.

In Kenya there is seven times the amount of rain fall than is needed by the population. Rain is an astoundingly misunderstood and underused resource and one that asks that we change our unsustainable relationship to water to a balanced one. A Waterbank is designed to transform our relationship to water. If ‘business as usual’ advocates extracting water from underground, from non-renewable aquifers, and building schools that deflect rather than catch and store rainwater easily. Waterbanks reverse this, bringing the water to the center of the building, manifestly, demonstrating how this resource can empower whole communities and lead to systemic change, and that everyone can have clean water. And so followed the construction of the first Waterbank School which was built at the Uaso Nyiro Primary School where Daniel had been working, in 2012. The building is a square, 24 x 24m set within a circular perimeter wall.

The plan is very simple, by necessity.

The Waterbank School is designed to harvest the maximum amount of rain with minimum materials and effort in a central courtyard with underground cistern. Rain falling on the roof drains with 95% efficiency into the cistern, and is drawn off and filtered by ceramic water filters when used, removing 99.9% of pathogens.

A diagram from 2010 by PITCHAfrica

Water is used for drinking, daily meal preparation, hand-washing and irrigation. Surrounding the central cistern are protected, well-ventilated classrooms, teaching gardens and a community workshop, for the parents and for community activities, enabling the school to become a catalyst for transformation. Even in this semi-arid region the school delivers 350,000 liters of water annually.

By example the school initiates region-wide rainwater harvesting, filtration and conservation agriculture efforts. The roof of the cistern is all-school gathering place and environmental theater where essential knowledge about practices and technologies is shared across ethnic and language divides. The school educates 360 children, and provides water for 680 children, from seven tribes, pastoralist communities living on less than $1.40 per day. It serves as a community education center for 4000 and as a demonstration school for a region of 400,000 people.

Ceramic Water Filters produced locally to help make water potable at the household level, worldwide. Originally designed by Dr. Fernando Mazareigos, a Guatemalan chemist, CWFs combine the filtration capability of micro-porous ceramic material with the anti-bacteriological qualities of colloidal silver. Ron Rivera, a sociologist and potter, redesigned the filter for mass production, and posted detailed ‘open access’ instructions for it’s manufacture, on-line.

On the day Nelson Mandela died and people across the continent were mourning, we got message from Njenga Kahiro, Community Liaison Officer at the Zeitz Foundation to say the tank was full to overflowing for the first time. It was a poetic moment, as if both tears and rain had created a supply of water and renewed life for a community. The School was named Greenest School on Earth by the US Green Building Council, and ‘Waterbanks’ was listed as one of the top 100 sustainable innovations by SUSTAINIA, from Denmark, in 2013.

PITCHAfrica_WATERBANKS @RISD_ photograph by Bathsheba Okwenje

Also, in 2013 we participated in the Buckminster Fuller Challenge, and won the inaugural ‘Interface Support Award’ for ‘Waterbanks’. As part of the very rigorous Challenge process we had to write short sentences that described how the Waterbank School addresses Buckminster Fuller’s seven criteria for Innovation. Being forced to make succinct claims in short-form is always useful and this is what we said:

  • VISIONARY: All new schools in poor communities where it rains can produce clean water and fresh food for children and catalyze community transformation
  • COMPREHENSIVE: The solution is simple, affordable and cross-cutting, directly addressing rural poverty, ill heath, lack of education and environmental degradation. Systemic change is driven by a geometrical, material and social reconfiguration of standard school design.
  • ANTICIPATORY: Anticipating global aquifer depletion, with 1 billion people worldwide without clean water and 60 million children out of school, our relationship to water must change. The Waterbank School, directly addresses this need.
  • ECONOMICALLY RESPONSIBLE: The school is an artificial watershed. Each element works hard, structurally and socially, using the fewest resources, to deliver the greatest impact on a child’s health and a community’s transformation. All buildings will need to be Waterbanks.
  • FEASIBLE: It is built simply using local skills, resources and technologies, supporting self-sufficiency and avoiding dependencies.
  • VERIFIABLE: The school is built and a post-occupancy evaluation underway. Attendance has risen by 25% to 95%. Instances of waterborne disease have dropped to zero.
  • REPLICABLE: With simple guidelines anyone can build a Waterbank School.


The principles seem to be gaining some traction and more Waterbank School Structures were completed in the region in 2014: The Endana Secondary School in Laikipia in Kenya’s Central Highlands is the location of the first Waterbank Campus, a collection of Waterbank building types have been built in 2013 -14 and are connected together by conservation agriculture plots, creating a model school that harvests and stores more than 2.5 million liters of water annually. The Waterbank building types demonstrated here include PITCHKenya, a 1500 seat rain harvesting sport stadium with integrated classroom block and environmental center, A Waterbank Girls Dormitory for 100 girls, A Waterbank Canteen and Dining facility and various Waterbank Latrine blocks.

Endana Secondary School – The Samuel Eto’o Laikipia Unity Football Academy, School & Environmental Education Centre
Endana Secondary School – The Samuel Eto’o Laikipia Unity Football Academy, School & Environmental Education Centre

Each Waterbank building type is designed to integrate water harvesting, storage and potable water filtration. The form of each building is designed to maximize the volume and retention efficiency of the water harvested, storing the supply underground, at the heart of each building, for use by the building occupants where a dedicated water supply can help support specific needs. The Waterbank Girls Dormitory provides a clear example of how this works. The building is designed to accommodate 100 girls in 3 dormitories that face onto a protected courtyard garden. The building can harvest up to 360,000 liters annually creating a dedicated supply for the young women to address comprehensive needs including; drinking water, water for sanitation, showering and the washing of clothes and water for irrigating the garden that will be developed to provide a sanctuary with nutrition rich plants and natural remedies. It is a safe place, away from the boys and men in the School Community, in a walled compound, with a secret garden, and a small house for the Matron, a surrogate mother, who looks after the girls.

Endana Secondary School – Dormitory for girls

In January 2014, I walked around the Endana site with the governor of Laikipia County. He was incredibly enthusiastic about the work and really understood the potential of the Waterbank and PITCH building types. There was a mood of excitement about the project and the idea that water harvesting centres could also be known as centres for community and peace building and an example that could be followed in other schools.

PITCHAfrica Design Director David Turnbull on site at Endana Secondary School in January 2014 – walking the site and talking about Water Reservoirs and Catchment systems with Governor Joshuah Irungu who, on July 22nd, announced the restructuring of his government by creating a ‘Ministry of Water’.

Each Waterbank Structure has been developed to address a specific set of issues that are central to improving livelihoods and health in rural regions suffering from a lack of access to clean water. These issues range from water and food security, to gender rights, environmental education and sport for development support. The Campus has been developed to welcome community participation and support the spread of knowledge about sustainable lifestyles through out the region.

The Endana Secondary School community clearing the land for the Conservation Agriculture plots.

What are we doing now?

We have stated work on a Waterbank District or Urban Quarter in the Niger Delta where the annual rainfall is close to 1.5 meters per year, but where the ground-water is heavily contaminated. This district is intended as a demonstration of the Waterbank approach in an urban setting and the design process involves the development of residential and mixed-use building types as well as schools, clinics and institutional structures.

Working on plans for a WATERBANK District in Nigeria, North of Lagos in the Delta – to be built in brick. The brickworks can produce 5,000 bricks a day, and there is a stock of 80,000 waiting…!

Historical antecedents can be found in Vitruvius’ descriptions of the construction of cisterns in antiquity, Roman ‘Impluvium’ courts, French ‘Lavoirs’ or English ‘Dewponds’. The filtration systems are made simply using clay, wood-dust, and colloidal silver, based on open-source documents prepared by Ron Rivera, improved and tested in Labs at Princeton University and the African University of Science and Technology in Abuja. The first Waterbank School was an Island, and isolated singular building, the Waterbank Campus is an archipelago of types, the Waterbank District is a dense urban accumulation or cluster. Our research continues by building and continuing to explore the ways and means for scaling the project.

This work is only possible with a lot of good-will, and with funding or in kind support from The Annenberg Foundation, Zeitz Foundation, The Buckminster Fuller Institute, INTERFACE Inc., AUTODESK and The Clinton Global Initiative we are working toward the launch of WATERBANKS OS in 2015, an open-source operating manual on the design, construction and use of Waterbanks, starting with a Waterbank School. A central part of this effort is to communicate how the stored water can be used and regulated most effectively so that throughout the dry seasons there is a consistent water supply and that the water doesn’t run out.

Feedback from the school buildings that have been completed at Uaso Nyiro and Endana will play a key role in the Waterbanks story and the success of the open-source variants. The challenges that lie beyond the self-evident complexity of building anything in remote parts of the world without roads, with limited resources and skills are all concerned with governance, the way that groups of people organize themselves to manage the water resource, to draw-off only the amount of water that is needed, and understand the dynamic interrelationship of water captured to water stored and water filtered and used, in uncertain times with less predictable weather. In this sense Waterbanks pose a question…

The students at the Uasonyiro Primary School


Professor David Turnbull, The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science & Art, Design Director of PITCHAfrica and the Waterbanks Initiative.


  • 2016 / Buckminster Fuller ChallengeWATERBANK Schools by PITCHAFRICA , Finalist.
  • 2015 / PITCHAfrica’s WATERBANK Campus, including PITCHKenya, a high yield rainwater-harvesting Futsal Stadium, School & Environmental Centre was selected for ‘Designs of the Year 2015 by Design Museum, London.
  • 2013 / Buckminster Fuller Challenge / ‘Waterbanks’ won the inaugural ‘Interface Support Award’.
  • 2013 / Waterbanks’ was listed as one of the top 100 sustainable innovations by SUSTAINIA, from Denmark.
  • 2013 / UASO NYIRO PRIMARY SCHOOL IN LAIKIPIA COUNTY won international distinction as the recipient of ‘The Greenest School on Earth 2013’ award, an annual announcement made by the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) that highlights a school that exemplifies how sustainability can be integrated into what and where students learn.
  • 2008 / ATOPIA_Research was awarded a major grant by The Annenberg Foundation to fund Research & Design Development for the PITCHAfrica project.



Co-founders, Jane Harrison and David Turnbull, describe PITCHAfrica as “a man-made eco-system, which when implanted into an existing environmental eco-system can heal the land, bind the community together, transform lives, build businesses and teach the next generation that they can live well, while addressing issues of gender, food scarcity, water needs and health.”

PITCHAfrica is a US based not-for-profit organization that provides innovative Sport-led, Community-Integrated Rainwater Harvesting infrastructures and programs for areas of Africa where lack of access to water is a major cause of poverty. Working in partnership with NGO’s and community organizations, PITCHAfrica provides essential infrastructure and training to enable communities to integrate sport led sustainable development initiatives and move towards resource self-sufficiency. 


For further information

  • For further information about PITCHAfrica in Facebook, please click here. 
  • To follow them on Twitter: @PITCH_Africa 
  • The Annenberg Foundation invests in visionary leaders of nonprofit organizations that provide impactful programs and services through collaborative models.
  • Zeitz Foundation was founded in Germany in 2008 by the business entrepreneur Jochen Zeitz, with the mission to create and support sustainable, ecologically and socially responsible projects and destinations around the world to achieve long-lasting impact and sustainability through the holistic balance of Conservation, Community, Culture and Commerce (the 4Cs) in privately managed areas.
  • The Buckminster Fuller Institute (BFI) is dedicated to catalyzing transformative solutions to complex global problems through design thinking education. The Buckminster Fuller Challenge is BFI’s flagship program, offering an annual $100,000 prize to support the development and implementation of a strategy that has significant potential to solve humanity’s most pressing problems.
  • The Clinton Global Initiative The mission of the Clinton Global Initiative is to turn ideas into action. Established in 2005 by President Bill Clinton, the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), an initiative of the Clinton Foundation, convenes global leaders to create and implement innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. CGI Annual Meetings have brought together 190 sitting and former heads of state, more than 20 Nobel Prize laureates, and hundreds of leading CEOs, heads of foundations and NGOs, major philanthropists, and members of the media. To date, members of the CGI community have made more than 3,600 commitments which have improved the lives of over 435 million people in more than 180 countries.

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