Architecture has always been more than just a roof over your head. Since the beginning of time, architecture can be counted upon to reflect the identity of a region as well as the needs of the people living there. Take, for example, the igloos of the Arctic. Its unique design and the use of packed snow aims to minimize heat loss.
The rise of more frequent extreme weather conditions in North America, most notably Superstorm Sandy in 2012, has changed the conversation on how to prepare for the next big storm. Elevated homes, resilient structures, and fire resistant materials are just some of the new demands in a market that historically didn’t have to worry too much about specific extreme conditions.
But the presence of extreme weather conditions isn’t the only thing influencing design and architecture these days. In many cases, it’s the extreme lack of weather conditions and water shortages that are pushing the creativity in architects to design rainwater harvesting structures in every corner of the world. But can a building designed to meet a functional need turn into a symbol or design and innovation?
The recent drought in California pushed architect, Michael Jantzen to unveil a rainwater collection structure in 2014 — just three years into the start of the California drought. The Solar Rain Tree Oasis is designed as an open-air public gathering pavilion set to help alleviate drought-stricken California.Through funnel-like indentations on the roof designed to collect water, as well as panels on the roof collecting energy, the design had the water struggles of the state of California in mind.
But Jantzen isn’t the only one developing ideas supporting rainwater harvesting. No longer limited to just buckets collecting water during the next storm or water towers storing water for the community, the movement incorporates unique design features like inverted roofs, pitched roofs and butterfly roofs, to name a few, into the design of homes and buildings. The result is unique and modern structures that are also functional. Here is a list of five structures that are making rainwater collection the focal point of their design:
- The Warkawater Tower in Ethiopia – Designed by architect Arturo Vitorri, the bamboo structure is designed to literally wring water from the air. The designer was influenced by bio-mimicry, local traditions, and the warka tree, a giant fig tree found in Ethiopia. Because of its effectiveness, structures like the one Vitorri built in south Ethiopia can now be found in other remote regions facing water shortages like Haiti, Madagascar, Colombia, Brazil, India, and Cameroon.
- Shishiodoshi House in Rezé, France – As unassuming as any building can be, the rainwater collection happens within the Japanese water features traditionally used in gardens. The water funnels off the gabled roof and into a cistern below while creating a state of sustainability that rainwater collection was originally created for.
- Tucson Mountain Retreat in Tucson, AZ – The design of the structure is built to complement the desert surroundings but also maximize the natural resources available — most especially solar heat gain by limiting exposure on the eastern and western facades. When it comes to water — or the lack thereof — a generous 30,000-gallon rainwater harvesting system was incorporated into the design to support the needs of the family living in the home.
- Cascading Creek House in Central Texas – A quick look at the architecture of this building reveals the importance of water in the function of the design. Starting with the roof which was designed as a basin to collect water, the roof ties into the water, electricity, and heating of the building creating an extensive climate control system with water at its center.
- Cape Russell Retreat in Tennessee – This off-the-grid cabin takes self-sustainability to a new level. Designed with a butterfly roof system (an inversion of the traditional roof) the building collects water into cisterns. Water then goes through the internal charcoal filter and ultraviolet light treatment to make it safe to drink.
There are dozens of new projects around the globe that are taking the rainwater collection architecture a step further including concave roofs in Iran by BMDesign Studios. We’ll just have to wait and see how else weather influences architecture in the future.