Gunwook Nam’s Human Pump is a clever solution to the world’s water crisis that captures kinetic energy generated from human foot traffic and uses it to power a system of pumps that bring fresh drinking water to the surface in a playful, dramatic and life-saving waterfall. One of three winners in the Re:construct competition sponsored by San Fransisco’s Urban Re:Vision, the project is a brilliant example of socially responsible design targeted towards communities without easy access to water.

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According to the World Health Organization, approximately 4,500 children die every day due to a lack of clean water. In sub-Saharan Africa UNESCO reports that it’s women and girls who bear the brunt of the water crisis as they cannot go to school or earn extra income because they must travel up to six miles every day just to get enough water for their families to survive.

Nam’s Human Pump is essentially a 12-meter-wide boardwalk designed to be placed in areas of heavy foot traffic, such as the main route to a school or charms market. Though the details are few, presumably kinetic energy from walking and playing would be absorbed throughout the day and stored, either mechanically or electrically. At some point later in the day the structure would have enough stored energy to pump water to the surface and trigger the transformation from boardwalk to waterfall/play area.

It’s an elegant application of kinetic energy harvesting as seen here on Inhabitat in everything from mobile phone chargers and dance floors, to cameras and lamps. Detractors may cite the projected figures: “1 step -> pumping -> 1 liter water”, and “50 visitors/day = 5000 steps = 50000 liters water”, not to mention the fact that in Nam’s drawings, precious, life-saving water seems to be spilling into the desert unimpeded. However, similar kinetic energy prototypes such as MIT’s Crowd Farm demonstrate that the technology is certainly feasible.

As part of the Urban Re:Vision series of competitions, the ‘Human Pump’ project will be a part of the collaboration between Re:Vision and the city of Dallas to construct an entire city block in a completely sustainable way. According to Suzanne Hackett, “Re:construct, is the fifth of six competitions to collect and generate ideas around building with sustainable and reusable materials, and in more innovative and meaningful ways.” We’re looking forward to hearing more in the upcoming months.

+ The Human Pump

+ Re:construct

+ Urban Re:Vision