Pitch perfect

Monday 25 Oct 2010

Atopia Research attempt to blend community activities with effective rainwater harvesting

While many architects are content to design the next iconic building, British architects Jane Harrison and David Turnbull believe that architectural thinking can lead to so much more. As such, they have set up an unconventional practice, Atopia Research based in London and New York, where they harness the power of architectural ideas to solve pressing world problems. Their work reaches beyond what is traditionally understood to be the boundaries of architectural practice and extends to many fields and different geographies. Working in this way, Jane and David have repositioned architecture to become part of a broader dialogue and broadened its sphere of influence to be potentially infinite. Their latest project, Pitch_Africa, seeks to solve the world's water crisis and so much more by organising essential services around the popular sport of soccer.

Pitch_Africa is an idea so simple one wonders why it hasn't been thought of before. The thinking behind the project is thus: if you design a project around something people can't live without - in this case soccer - amazing things can happen. Pitch_Africa consists of a soccer field built to capture and store rainwater which is filtered and made available to the community on a continuous basis to use for drinking, washing and farming. The premise of the project is that a simple soccer pitch (playing field) can be a catalyst where things come together and where you can really make a difference to issues such as HIV, food and security, says Harrison.

The spaces underneath the Pitch (soccer field) will house schools, health clinics, community meeting rooms and a local market. As Harrison and Turnbull discovered, a simple pitch can deliver a huge change to the surrounding community with the creation of one million litres of water. The project's potential to be a game changer is evident, which perhaps explains why it got the notice of the Los Angeles based Annenberg Foundation, which has given the architects a grant to build three projects in South Africa with seven to twelve additional locations under review.

A prototype of the project was unveiled this past July in Los Angeles in true Hollywood fashion. The model pitch features a 64ft x 80ft soccer field and seating for 800 people built atop cargo shipping containers. To demonstrate how the actual pitch would work, the organisers summoned up an artificial rain shower and tapped area youth to participate in a soccer clinic. For the real project, the Annenberg Foundation will partner with actress Charlize Theron's Africa Outreach Project to build the first Pitch in South Africa.

Pitch_Africa is a project that is ideally suited to work in Africa. In much of the African continent, rainfall can total between three to six feet per year. This is more rainfall than some counties in Northern Europe. But because the rainfall is concentrated in short periods of time, much of this water evaporates and is lost. Today, women and children walk long distances - up to 40 km a day to get water that is often contaminated with disease that is easily spread. These long journeys keep girls out of schools and render their mothers unable to care for their families or earn an income. The beauty of the project is that rainwater can be harvested anywhere it rains.

Pitch_Africa will provide clean water on a regular basis in tropical and temperate regions where water is scare or unavailable, potentially making a profound difference in the lives of the people of Africa. In designing Pitch_Africa, Harrison and Turnbull have followed their own path to respond to the world's water crisis by bringing in innovation without dictating how it will play out.

Sharon McHugh
US Correspondent

Key Facts:

Sport in architecture

Want to submit your project to World Architecture News?

Contact The Team