Jay CabozBy Jay Caboz|November 30, 2020|9 Minutes|In Billionaire Tomorrow

The African Cheese Graters That Could Save A City From Drought

It was an epiphany for an entrepreneur. Designer Shaakira Jassat shut her eyes and imagined cascading water on a dry day and that was it.

Dozens of shiny silver metal plates hang from the side of the Granger Bay parking lot in the the V&A Waterfront, in Cape Town. In recent years, this name has dripped with irony in a city that was as dry as a desert.

The hanging metal plates shimmer like cheese graters in the sunshine. If you look hard enough you can see the reflection of nearby Atlantic Ocean just a stone’s throw from the imposing Table Mountain. They look like something out of a modern art gallery.

But it’s what these cheese graters do, that is important. Believe it or not what glistens can also be gold in Cape Town’s attempt to avoid another damaging drought.

It’s been a dry six years for Cape Town. The drought brought Cape Town and its world famous tourism industry to their knees. People were left scrambling for every drop, storing leftover water in buckets after showers and flushing their toilets only when it was necessary. Many tourists looked elsewhere costing the economy millions.

Like many South Africans the drought left an indelible mark on entrepreneur Shaakira Jassat, who made regular trips to Cape Town in between her studies in Europe.

“My family still lives in South Africa and I travel at least once a year. The drought was quite intense. I couldn’t imagine what it was like to go through. I was at the time getting toward graduation in the Netherlands and wanted to do something about it. So, I asked myself if there was no water coming out of my tap what would I do? How can I create something meaningful and change the situation that we are in?” she said.

A glance through the window one afternoon lent a moment of inspiration.

“I thought if it’s raining outside and if I had something on my balcony to collect water that would be so cool. I could use it to water my plants or use it to drink…To be able to wait for a drop of water brings me right back to the week I spent to almost day zero. In Cape Town. We almost never had it.”

Jassat, who was studying architectural design, wanted to find new ways to harvest water in inner city Cape Town. You can get water tanks in your garden, it’s not so easy in the city.

An image stuck in Jassat’s head as she looked around the city – that of water cascading down the walls. This was the birth of Aquatecture where the cheese grater- like sculptures are put on the wall to channel rain water down so it can be harvested.

I thought if it's raining outside and if I had something on my balcony to collect water that would be so cool.

- Shaakira Jassat

They look like an architect’s dream facade. Behind the look they channel precious water away from the stormwater drains and into sewage tanks. It is an idea that’s potentially lucrative as it is simple.

“Normally we design buildings to keep out water, and rightly so, because it can be quite damaging. But it’s time we now look at it differently. With Aquatecture that was the idea, to embrace the water in a way that makes it urban friendly and compact that even residents in an apartment would be able to use it,” said Jassat.

Manufactured from aluminium, the panels are resistant to seaside corrosion and can be installed on the exterior of buildings or be used as free standing units in areas with more open space.
For two years rainfall data specific to the area will be collected over two years to measure its efficacy and impact on the surrounding environment.

“The V&A Waterfront has been at the forefront of water saving in Cape Town since 2009, when we first introduced water conservation measures…By 2016 when the drought was first making its effects felt, the Waterfront had saved 25% of its consumption based on year-on-year figures from 2010,” said David Green, CEO of V&A Waterfront.

While the drought in Cape Town may have eased up, the threat of drought looms across South Africa. Other parts of the country desperately need solutions.

Maybe it’s time for the architect and authorities to rethink the way they preserve and store precious water.

“The country in general is taking freshwater generation a lot more seriously. After seven years of no water it’s a celebration moment. But now you have to take care of [water], hold onto it and to make sure it doesn’t go back to the other situation.”

Which is why she is looking even further ahead to make a difference.

Cheese graters on the wall is one answer, now Jassat is trying to use technology to capture the moisture from the air we breathe.

“It’s very much in development. But I’ve designed a vapour panel prototype. It’s in the very early stages and so at this stage is on a very small scale,” said Jassat.

In principal the panels are shaped to use thermo dynamics in much the same way as what happens in a desert. Extremely high and then later on very low temperatures result in dew forming.

It’s a work in progress.

By heating and cooling either side of the hollow panels a temperature difference is created. This allows water to condense on the inside of the Aquatecture taking water from the air.

“Ultimately I want to see them integrated, so that when it’s raining it could harvest rain and when it’s not raining it could harvest moisture when there is enough would be the ultimate goal.”

The panels could also serve a purpose when there is too much water as well.
“If it’s [raining] a lot, it happens in South Africa with flash flooding. It helps easing the drainage system by directing that water away from flooding.”

Jassat, who lives in Netherlands, and has founded her own design studio Studio Sway, and wants to concentrate on sculptures with purpose.

“Here in the Netherlands we have a lot of solar farms with large open spaces. I feel like these panels could be incorporated somehow onto solar panels. They could be

incorporated into a solar farm, using the energy from the solar panels and make water. They could then become self-sustaining and generate water at the same time.”

While the future may be far off, the cheese grater will stand at the V&A Waterfront helping to collect data to see if it’s possible to gather water on the side of inner city buildings.

If fruitful the project could be counting pennies as well as drops.