How students’ voluntary work in Cambodia led to a water pump, collection and filtration system plus community hall for villagers
What: Community Hall with pump and filter system
Where: Sneung village, Battambang, Cambodia
The WaterHall project is a water pump, collection and filtration system which also doubles as a community hall in a remote village on the outskirts of Battambang. With foundations and main structure of in-situ concrete and characterful walls of ‘hit and miss’ brickwork, the design is by young Hong Kong firm OOA Architects, who worked on voluntary charity projects for the village while studying at Hong Kong University. It was then that they identified the village’s need for a reliable, clean, free source of water that dispensed with people’s reliance on buying bottled water from private companies – as well as a new meeting house.
The village is close to a small lake, but this contains water for only half a year; and even then contamination from nearby industry and local plastic bottle pollution means its water is not potable. Working with local water engineers, OOA found that water drawn from beneath it was clean enough to be filtered, treated and ultimately be drinkable. The firm then applied to the Hong Kong Institute of Architects (HKIA) for its Community Project Fund sponsorship, which it won. It then worked with a local NGO and the community itself to realise this pilot project within its US$30,000 budget.
The project comprises two circular structures, say OOA’s Magic Kwan and Kenrick Wong, which both provide alternative means of supplying water. Constructed from in-situ poured concrete foundations, floor slab and structural columns, one contains the machinery for pumping from the lake’s water table, as well as associated filtration and chemical cleansing plant. Alongside, the second structure is augmented with a duplex-painted galvanised steel roof that directs any rain to a central collection hole, where it pours into a subterranean plastic cistern. Connecting pipework allows this run-off water to be pumped across to the plant area and treated as the lake water is.
Kwan explains that the circular form optimises run off, giving greatest surface area with minimum use of material, and that such forms are bound into the cultural identity of the nation, in such religious buildings as Angkor Wat. While these are lofty associations, the choice of brick was more prosaic. Local working buildings are largely concrete, window-less and with corrugated roofs and are generally dark and overheated; so this, built by architecture students together with locals, seems altogether more joyous. The hit and miss bricks, characterised by large dollops of mortar at either end, provide valuable shade and pleasant levels of light to the interior. Crucially, its 360° cross-ventilation allows the central area, with it seating plinth, to be used by the community at all times of the day, rain or shine.
Choices did have to be made. The firm forewent an Australian filtration plant for a domestic system, which while less efficient, could be better maintained locally. There had been an aspiration to use solar panels to power both pump and plant, but while the panels were affordable, the quality of battery technology needed to ensure maximum operational efficiency was not.
WaterHall has been in operation for a year and has been life changing, giving Sneung constant access to water at absolute minimum cost. OOA has calculated that 10% of the total water supplied comprises roof run-off and means that up to 110 families benefit from the resource every day. That, and they now have a wonderful new community centre, which is brought to life by the element that keeps them alive.