Monday, January 12, 2015

Kickstarter Dreams Meet "Real" Life

Since I started watching Kickstarter projects (see previous post), I've seen some amazing stuff.

This one is fascinating.

It doesn't meet some of the criteria I've come to judge campaigns on: the video is a little longer (over 4 minutes instead of about 2), and instead of getting one of a guaranteed run of widgets, you are getting some bonus rewards in order to support a single, expensive prototype.

The concept, a fog-collector as a clean-water solution for the Ethiopian highlands, is fascinating.

Is it a practical answer to a desperate humanitarian crisis? 

Or is it a dreamer, design-school, overly-ambitious project that is only going to work in climates where it is unnecessary?
(Note the grassy-green backdrop behind the prototypes, very different from the dry African farm country in the project destination photos.)

They have put some real time into it already, and while they don't report the performance of the previous prototypes, the fact that they have done at least two desert-climate prototypes lends credibility.

I'm backing it at a low level and keeping an eye on it for further documentation.

I also think that a dew-harvester made with something as simple as pine boughs could be a real possibility for our arid montane West, where we do see a lot of fog in season.  Ideas to play with!

Here's the project link: Warka Water,

Also, talking to Debbi Cornell today, I was remembering some other ancient desert-climate technology that I have been admiring lately.

Yakhchal, qanat, wind-catcher towers, and Persian courtyard-and-fountain design, all expounded on the "It's Not Rocket Science" portion of the architectural blog "Misfits."

English: Yakhchal of Yazd province
Picture from the above blog, credit: Wikipedia
If nothing else, they're excellent Scrabble words.

If you live in arid climates, these may be life-saving technologies to investigate.  Certainly worth understanding the concepts behind them: wind-catchers use circulation, evaporative cooling, both wind and solar-chimney draft principles; yakhchal use radiant cooling, heat stratification, insulation, ventilation, and possibly an element of human labor to conserve coolth in a desert climate.

One of the hallmarks of ancient, sophisticated, persistent civilizations (hey, that sounds a lot like "permaculture") is using locally-abundant elements to "power" seemingly-impossible achievements (water collection without rain, ice storage without refrigeration in deserts that dip below freezing only a few nights per year).   
I'd definitely look into these before designing a single additional structure for your arid-climate homestead, village, or metropolis.

For temperate and coastal climates, I might suggest the recent National Geographic article on the stone temples of the Orkney Islands (northern Scotland), the Norse turf homes at Hurstwic, and cedar-plank longhouses.

Pay special attention to the relationship between stone (thermal mass), insulation, ventilation, and the home's central hearth; and to the difference between structures designed for centuries of infrequent use (Orkney) vs. occupant survival over a winter, years, or decades (Hurstwic).   The oldest surviving structures are often optimally designed for permanence (undressed stone), not comfort.  The oldest continually-occupied homes in an area can be quite informative.

Homes designed for occupation can decay surprisingly fast when unoccupied; their ventilation (which prevents mold and rot) may depend on routine occupant activities like cooking, heating, and so on.  Likewise, clothing that is worn every day rarely gets infested with moths, but stored clothing may grow moth or mildew unless very carefully cleaned and stored in optimal conditions.

Buildings not well-designed for occupation can last for centuries or only years.  They may be comfortable only seasonally, and may collect condensation unintentionally when occupied in ordinary local weather conditions.

Ahhh, winter food for thought.

In nearly-unrelated news, I am very much enjoying my new hat.
The hat was hand-knit and felted (fulled) by Debbi Cornell of Triple C Permaculture Farms, and the flower is a hair ornament I got a couple years back from felt artist Leaha Passaro of Leaping Sheep Farms.  Leaha almost didn't recognize her flower because it looked so at home on the hat!

Yours as always,