The 2008 Metropolis Magazine Next Generation design competition challenged young architects and designers to create a sustainable solution to make the world better, and safer, with ideas related to the theme of ‘water.’ We are thrilled to announce that this year’s $10,000 prize was awarded to San Francisco based architect and CCA professor Eric Olsen! Olsen’s winning design is a Solar Water Disinfecting Tarpaulin, a revolutionary design that promises to provide portable and potable water anywhere that it is needed.
As flood tides rise and the world’s largest supply of fresh water sinks into the sea, this year’s Next Generation contest addressed the alarming fact that the most essential element to our existence is in short supply. The Sphere Project Handbook states that a person needs 4 to 5 gallons of water per day to survive, yet up to a third of the global population lives without reliable access to potable water.
Olsen’s Solar Water Disinfecting Tarpaulin directly addresses this crisis with an adaptable vessel that allows for an immediately accessible water infrastructure. The design’s pleated, biomorphic construction takes cues from the water-storing structure of the saguaro cactus, which contracts and expands as it absorbs water. It can be easily rolled for storage and transport, and can even be worn as “a shawl-like kanga for carrying.”
The tough tarpaulin is composed of laser cut LDPE and rubberized nylon and it expands to hold up to 20 liters of water, which is rendered drinkable after five hours of exposure to the sun. This purification method is approved by the World Health Organization, and uses passive solar heat and ultraviolet radiation to kill disease causing bacteria. The tarpaulin’s beauty is in its simplicity: it’s quick, efficient, and requires no filter, chemicals, or additional energy expenditure.
In the May issue of Metropolis Olsen says: “You can imagine that in post-Katrina New Orleans something like this would have been useful as an alternative to the energy required to transport clean water to some other site.” He continues: “It’s really applicable anywhere there isn’t a functioning water infrastructure. Whatever your situation is, ideally it can be incorporated into it.”
Eric Olsen grew up in Las Vegas, an intense desert environment where he learned firsthand about the finite nature of our water resources. He graduated from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design and currently runs his own architecture practice while teaching at California College of the Arts. His project is a fantastic addition to a grand lineage of Next Generation projects that continue to showcase outstanding designs for a sustainable future.