WDE Spotlight: Shaakira Jassat

In WDE Spotlight, we give the floor to several designers from the Embassies. This time we speak with Shaakira Jassat, part of the Embassy of Water en Circular & Biobased Building in 2021. What is her background? What inspires her? What does she hope to achieve with her work? You’ll read about it in this Q&A!

Type Update
Published on 5 May 2022
Part of Embassies: Circular & Biobased Building, Water
WDE Spotlight: Shaakira Jassat
Part of Embassies: Circular & Biobased Building, Water

Can you tell us a bit more about yourself, your background and your design practice?

I am Shaakira Jassat, originally from South Africa and now based in the Netherlands. I have a background in interior architecture and worked in that field for around 7 years in Johannesburg before coming over to the Design Academy Eindhoven to do my second bachelor’s. I graduated in 2019 and immediately registered my studio at the KVK. As the founder of Studio Sway, I am growing to become a symbiotic designer and mainly work on my own or collaborate with experts or teams as the projects require. I straddle between the themes of ecology, architecture and society. Design has become my way of trying to understand the world because I feel that with an understanding comes the ability to do things better. This “curiosity through design” has helped me realise projects that are either narrative pieces that convey my findings in poetic ways, or on the other hand, it’s made way for an innovation project that addresses urban water circularity. 

Your project was part of the Embassy of Water during Dutch Design Week 2021 and is at the same time part of the Embassy Circulair and Biobased Building. What can you tell us about this project and what stage it is now?

Aquatecture is a vertical, modular system that harvests rainwater as it falls from the sky. It can be installed on facades of buildings or as freestanding elements in public spaces. To have the project feature at both these embassies last Dutch Design Week served as an endorsement for me to keep striving with the validation phase of the project. The precious element of water, as well as innovative ways of ensuring its circular management, are urgently needed in today’s time and this was addressed through these embassies. The Aquatecture Water Harvesting System is currently piloted in both South Africa and the Netherlands and is in the research and development phase. Together with a team of students from Engineers Without Borders at the University of Cape Town we are collecting weather and water data in order to analyse the efficiency of the Aquatecture system. The production development of the project is also in full swing and together with a factory, I have looked at ways of how we can produce Aquatecture in a bigger quantity. Apart from the validation of the system, I also try to incorporate a holistic approach involving other topics related to the project. Last year, together with students from TU Eindhoven and the University of Cape Town we hosted two knowledge share workshops. We invited experts to share experiences and have discussions with us about embodied carbon, meteorology and climate-resilient architecture. We also calculated the embodied carbon on the Aquatecture pilot installations.

In this project, you are working on the circular transport of rainwater to reuse it in other ways. The idea for Aquatecture came from drought in your home country, is water and the lack of it in your home country something that concerns you, and if so, why?

Yes indeed, this project was born out of a personal place and I simply could not sit back and had to work with ideas to help try to improve the Day Zero situation that was happening in Cape Town. I have always been fascinated by water in my projects, this time it was the lack of water that catalysed the direction of the work. I think that if you were in my shoes, you would do the exact same thing. I am deeply concerned about the water issues we face back home. Just last night (April 18th 2022, ed.) there was a relentless storm in KwaZulu Natal in South Africa and people have lost their lives, homes and belongings in floods. The effects of climate change are unfortunately felt everywhere, and the most destitute communities are paying the biggest price. The water conditions in my country are something we should all be concerned about because these situations ultimately indicate the health of our collective planet.

Do you think that in the future the technique used to make Aquatecture can be applied to other products to collect rainwater?

Yes. The Aquatecture Water Harvesting System is modular so it can be installed as a facade element on a building but it can also be installed as free-standing elements in public spaces, for example at festivals or around urinals in the city.

Is Aquatecture already being used in your home country? And do you plan to use Aquatecture in other countries as well?

Yes, it is being piloted at the V&A Waterfront in South Africa and the neighbouring urban market uses the harvested water in their gardens. Aquatecture is also installed in Eindhoven. I foresee that it can be used in cities around the world, not just cities that are prone to droughts but also in those that have too much rainfall. Aquatecture can harvest water to store it for drier periods but also puts ease on stormwater drainage systems during heavy rainfall. For the more humid countries, Aquatecture 2.0, which works to harvest condensation, would be most suitable. At the moment I am collaborating with the Mechanical Engineering Department at TU/e to explore efficient condensation harvesting as part of the Aquatecture Water Harvesting System.

‘I wanted to make buildings more self-sufficient in this way to empower them to ‘harvest’ their own water. The water harvested from the system can directly be linked to the building's greywater system and used to, for example: flush the toilets. ’

How do you think your design can make an impact?

The Aquatecture Water Harvesting System creates circular water nodes within a larger cityscape. Each building could be responsible for catering for its own water needs. I was very inspired by the Namib Desert Beetle in the research phase of this project. Similar to Tillandsia and Bromeliad plants, the beetle is able to harvest its own water from the surrounding atmosphere. I wanted to make buildings more self-sufficient in this way to empower them to ‘harvest’ their own water. The water harvested from the system can directly be linked to the building’s greywater system and used to, for example: flush the toilets. 

I have experienced a deeper awareness of weather patterns throughout the pilot stage of the project. Rain and wind are critical for the system, and to a better understanding of these elements is a requirement for the success of the project. I do hope that this installation would make people more aware of weather elements and how they relate to our resources. We would have a sense of connection with our water and how much the sky is able to yield at a time. At the moment it feels more anonymous and endlessly available, which is not realistic anymore.

Can you name another interesting designer who works on the same topic, and what makes his/her projects so great?

Shneel Malik and the project Indus is a great example of a modular water filtering system that makes use of microalgae. The project stands out because of its community engagement; a sense of responsibility and closeness to water is brought back to the user. It is also aesthetically pleasing which makes it very interesting to integrate into public spaces. Functional aesthetics is where the strength of design is displayed in the project.

If you could choose one person to work with (a designer, politician, artist, scientist, organisation, anyone), who would you choose and why?

I think it would be a non-human being. I would absolutely love to co-create or collaborate with an organism, I mean it could be an insect or it could be a tree. I am not really sure what we would do or how, but it would be great! Designers and innovators are already collaborating with microorganisms in this way, which I find inspiring. With the Aquatecture project, I feel like I have taken a lot of time to research and understand water. What does the water need? How does it flow? Where do we find it? So this type of collaboration process has begun, yet I still feel that I can explore this methodology a lot deeper in the future.

Another wish I have is to collaborate with indigenous communities back home in South Africa. I am always in awe at the honest connection and understanding they have with the earth and it would be such a treat to work on a project together!

What kind of design/project would you like to realise in the future and why?

I would be interested in looking to combine ecology (food and agriculture), architecture (habitat and building elements) and society (human and non-human) to explore the creation of our future architecture.

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