Thursday, March 6, 2008

Rainwater Harvesting: Furaat Systems Design addresses many levels

Furaat Systems addresses many levels of design in Rainwater Harvesting

Image: Poster from Furaat Earth Pvt Ltd showing the systems overview
Science is the search for knowledge that we all depend upon to tell us how nature works and it is also the vehicle through which this knowledge is refined and tested through a process of hypothesis creation and peer evaluation. Technology on the other hand includes the methods, procedures and tools employed to use this knowledge into shaping dependable and predictable results. However it is rarely understood that generic design which is a natural human activity usually precedes both these stages in the creation of imaginative new products and solutions which may be at first intuitively and creatively apprehended into a workable manifestation and then refined by a process of evolution through multiple cycles as in the case of our crafts and numerous traditional applications. In the case of water harvesting systems in India we have a long tradition of applications that have been evolved through the fertile use of local ingenuity and hard earned insights over centuries of evolution and refinement.

Modern design on the other hand contributes to both knowledge creation as well as in helping in the application of existing knowledge in systematic ways to create compelling new solutions that include the multiple dimensions of economic, technological, sociological as well as the aesthetic besides addressing the functional and emotional needs of the user and helps meet the requirements of the task at hand in an elegant manner. This multidisciplinary quality of synthesis is unique to design innovation since it is a framework that enables each contributing specialization and the knowledge held therein to be brought into a particular configuration that opens the huge potential and inherent value in a manner that it can be harvested by a number of stakeholders in a manner intended by the collaborators. Design as we know it today is therefore a negotiated space and an expert procedure that helps unlock the value potential that is found locked within the particular situation. This unfolding has been the subject of much recent research by world design thought leaders as seen in their books such as Tomas Maldonado, Nigel Cross, Harold Nelson, Bryan Lawson, Klaus Krippendorff, Peter Downton, Roger Martin, Don Norman and others who have written books on the subject dealing with design theory and action. Many of them are members of the Design Research Society, which is composed of members who work in the area of design research and who have contributed to shaping the field in recent times through their writing on the subject. I too have many papers on design theory which try to explain the field and these can be downloaded from my website. In this particular post I am looking at how design has helped unfold value in the specific area of rainwater harvesting system and I will expand on this a bit later. In future posts I wish to look at many other fields where the use of design has made a huge difference and these too will hopefully help us see how design can be used across fields, and in my considered view India needs this kind of design action across 230 sectors of our economy.

Many places in Western India, particularly in Gujarat and Rajasthan there are age old traditions of water harvesting that include both the significant forms in which this art is performed across the region. The balancing of the underground aquifers through the strategic location of small ponds and lakes near a village has served our villages well over the years in helping the people manage their water resources for a year round availability. However with a greater dependence on ground water utilization by pumping in both our rural as well as urban locations we have increasingly seen the water table receding year on year till we reach a crisis point of no return. Many of our regions still receive good precipitation during the monsoon season but due to rapid drain-offs from the catchment areas into the storm drains and rivers we see very little of this water being recharged into the underground aquifers since even the old lakes have now been filled up in the creeping habit of urbanization. Cities like Delhi and Chennai have been facing an acute shortage of drinking water and this crisis is being experienced in many other parts of India as well. The traditional wisdom of holding the rain water run off in shallow ponds near the village seems to be replaced by a new fangled dependence on the deep bore pump and the imbalance of the situation is now showing up in the water shortages in the near term and in climate change at the macro level. Sensitive activists have raised this issue in a number of public for a and some have gone further to use documentation and scientific arguments to show us the consequences of our continued use of ground water resources while not addressing the need for recharge both artificially as well as in the natural way as far as possible.

Great examples of traditional water harvesting systems exist all over Gujarat and Rajasthan. The best known and celebrated examples are the Step Wells of Gujarat in Patan and Adalaj near Ahmedabad. In Ahmedabad city, houses in the traditional Polls had used the underground tanks to hold clean rainwater for use through the year. Most traditional houses in the Polls were equipped with such a well-designed system of copper pipes and dark underground sumps sufficiently large to hold a full year’s rainwater supply for drinking needs. Gandhi’s house in Porbunder is a specific example of this kind of rainwater harvesting that was practiced in the Gujarat region. The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in New Delhi showed leadership in the awareness building activity through their book on traditional water harvesting systems called “Dying Wisdom: Rise, Fall and Potential of India’s Traditional Water Harvesting Systems” that was published in 1997 by Anil Agarwal. The CSE has sustained its efforts at this awareness and legislation provoking efforts and studies over the years. As a result, today we can see many parts of India have new laws in place that make it mandatory to implement water harvesting systems in all new constructions and in some cases even in existing buildings. The CSE has published a “Water Harvesting Manual” with case studies from Delhi that provides guidelines for public action. However the creation of guidelines and principle diagrams to manage the flow of rainwater from rooftops and catchment areas without contamination into filter beds and then on to the storage or recharge systems is not sufficient to make it happen in a functional and a high quality manner in the real world. Each site needs to be planned and designed to meet the volume of run off as well as the storage or recharge capacity that the system should address. Alternately this leaves a space for several design opportunities for the creation of new products and services that can be offered in a professional manner by an entrepreneurial intervention. It is in the creation of such dependable and efficient as well as elegant systems does design come into play and this can demonstrate the value that is inherent on the situation, much of which is not easily visible to the eye of the perceiver.

Image: Furaat System under installation by two persons team.
It is one such offering that has been made by the Furaat Water Harvesting system that has been designed for the Ahmedabad based company by an NID graduate of Product Design, Dinesh Sharma. The company, Furaat Earth Pvt Ltd, was set up by the entrepreneur brothers Habil and Yusuf Attarwala with the intention of reaching action on the ground with a small investment rather than just talking about the need for awareness and local action. In the last two years over 400 installations have been achieved and this year has seen a growth in both acceptance and in business with over 500 installations being considered, each costing approximately Rs 30,000 and their message is being heard due to the value that they bring by the use of their successful modular design. The Furaat system can be used for both kinds of applications, that is, storage type or ground water recharge type of application. In the first case the system on offer can form the first stage of the collection and filtration process while a variety of storage types can be used downstream, and in the second case the modular units can be installed in a variety of capacities to recharge deep ground water reservoirs using deep bore wells as the preferred route for the ground water recharge process. While there are so many traditional and scientifically developed systems why are we looking at one that is developed by an industrial designer using the principles of design? This will become clear when we compare the features as well as performance across a number of parameters at the same time and see which ones stand the test of the harsh reality check that is done in the marketplace without subsidies of any kind.

Image: Details of the Furaat Rainwater Harvesting System
The product will have to meet customer requirements across these multiple attributes if it is to become successful in the marketplace. It has to be cost effective and this is achieved by the modular construction that is on offer. Two key components are used in the product – an octagonal horizontal component and a rectangular vertical component – each with a simple locator detail that uses spherical glass beads in a patented configuration to lock the components in place. These are made in high quality concrete castings with precision and durability and in the long run these offer reuse and recycling possibilities in case the location is to be changed in the future due changes in the underground water table characteristics or in new structures on the surface as the site is developed. This is a hidden feature that protects the investment and also significant is the ease with which the well components can be assembled, maintained and cleaned after a few monsoons. All water handling accessories too are made of industrial grade metals of high quality that provides durability, performance and filtration standards that are extremely high and the sand and gravel beds at the first and the last stage too can be cleaned with ease since the design affords easy access as it is like a step-well with the dimensions matched to human proportions for lifting, access and climbing as well as being secure in the quality of filter performance that is guaranteed by the company. The pdf file available at their website gives a poster showing areas of application and more details of the construction and the features can be downloaded from their site here. The modular construction gives the user and the planner flexibility in making the particular unit to suit the needs of the site condition as well as the available budget since a one level, two level or three level or even a multi-level unit can be made with the same basic components in a very short time. Installation can be completed in less than a day by one or two semi-skilled masons without the use of hoists or cranes to erect the well components. Ground water recharge if done carelessly can be quite damaging for the aquifer since it is easy to use artificial recharge to help introduce contaminants and surface pollution into an aquifer if the filtration process is carelessly handled.

Image: Postcards designed to reach the message of rainwater harvesting to school children
Water is serious commodity that needs great care and attention and we need a variety of systems that can take care of local variants from the point of view of precipitation, terrain, geological attributes as well as population stress and other factors. Design can play a great role in examining and building imaginative solutions that are economic, appropriate and culturally suitable for the particular location. John Thackara in his recent book review has strongly recommended a book on water management titled “Dam Nation: Dispatches From the Water Underground” by Editors Cleo Woelfle-Erskine, July Oskar Cole , Laura Allen, and Illustrator Annie Danger. This brings up another point for us since design need not end with the product in need but can extend to the graphic and systems devices and methods that are used to promote and build awareness about these systems in our wider population. Here the communications too could be designed and the Furaat team has produced posters, flash cards and other communications that can help bring awareness to local schools as well as to parents through their children so that eventually the action on the ground is both significant and effective. Water and its effective management is definitely one major sector that can benefit from design thought and action I would like to see that the Government to include it in the National Design Policy initiatives and just like this one neglected sector (from a design opportunity perspective) we have another 230 sectors that too need urgent public funding and design attention. John Thackara has called for a movement to be put in place to support "collaborative innovation in all public investment in the UK and we can certainly benefit if we can bring these actions to India across our vast landscape with its huge diversity of regional, climatic, biotic, cultural and geological variables that renders central planning so ineffective. The National Design Policy could take a leaf out of the DOTT07 initiatives of the Design Council UK and now the DOTT07 Manual is available online in part as a digital file and as a print product it is available at cost.


  1. in this context it would be valuable to add information about the work done in the western region of Gujarat by the Tarun Bharat Sangh and Rajendra Singh who has a 'teach them to fish' approach to creating awareness about ground water resources as well as renovating traditional formsof rain water harvesting in drought prone areas.
    his approach, though more sociology based than design led teaches us a valuable lesson in getting across to people of different strata.
    do check out the link:

  2. Dear Deepani

    I am glad that you brought up the issue of social activists and the awareness building that has been happening across sectors that need urgent action, particularly the work of Tarun Bharat Sangh and Rajendra Singh, in the area of water harvesting. I do not wish to lower the contribution made by these activists in any way. However, in India all major issues are politicised or they are deffered to NGO activists to bring a semblence of awareness. The take to the streets in protest approach is one way to take up isssues in a democracy when we think that Governments can and need to act on a particular issue. The other way is to take the message to the people directly and this is the approach that many NGO's take and some are quite successful in building a credible presence. However, the third way of using design and innovation at a very high level of quality is rarely endorsed or tried out in India and this way I believe will bring lasting impact and great value. In the post that I made about the water harvesting system I was trying to draw the attention of the Government , Industry and the Public to this possibilityh that all but ignored in India today. Notwithstanding the tabling of the National Design Policy last year by the Finance Minister himself we find that both the 2007 and the 2008 Budget Speech ignores the value that design can bring to as many as 230 sectors of our economy. This needs to be corrected and we do need to educate our Ministers and the Puiblic at large about the value that design can broing to these sectors, which is the purpose and mission of this blog.

  3. though provoking one sir !

  4. do u mean like the daily dump and indus tree approaches that tackle issues starting at a smaller level and use information and design to create awareness from the bottom up?

  5. Dear Deepani

    There are many ways to be effective. If you can find corporate or Government funding on India which seems to come by easily to the science and technology laboratories in here, you can use this input to try and make a difference. However in case you have to do it without such support it can still be done using an entrepreneurial route, yes, the Daily Dump and Industree are good examples of such an effort today. Alternately you could take one location or one single village and work there with the local people and use this as a demonstration model. The Jawaja project done in 1975 by Prof. Ravi Matthai and his team at IIMA and at NID, the Chennapatna project done in 1978 -81 by me with my colleagues at NID is another and around the same time the Dhamadka project in Kutch for Textile block prints done by Sulekha Goolry for Gurjari was yet another such effort in the mid 70's. All of these used design and design processes with people's participation to make a real demonstration of the impact of design thinking and action when applied to a field to address poverty and it has also shown that people with some skills can help themselves if they are assisted with the right kind of innovation and a limited ammount of hand-holding. I believe that this can be repeated again and again in the field but it does need the presence of a catalyst and the use of design along the way.

  6. In a progressive society it is natural that demands of water remain on the rise. In this context the issues are varied and complex in our country, because in India there are remarkable variation in the availability of water on account of the regional rainfall and geography. Along with, the increasing population and urbanization are having telling effect on the availability and quality of water. In this situation the activity of artificial recharge to ground water is an indispensable measure which is substantially beneficial, as this will help store the surplus rainwater in the form of ground water and in turn arrest the decline of water level and degradation of the quality. All the same it is ecofriendly. Since 1998 ASD has carried out intensive studies on the effectiveness of different techniques of artificial recharge to ground water. This compilation contains some of the techniques that are suited to different geographic and geologic condition. This would help boost the activity of artificial recharge to ground water in all the four divisions Gujarat.

    Maan Singh Rathore
    Head - Marketing and Projects
    KRG India Research Centre for Rainwater Harvesting and Environment.
    + 91 9904342467

  7. Dear Professor Ranjan,
    In our country, we have over 25 million irrigation wells besides countless smaller wells for domestic water supply. In hard rock aquifer areas of peninsular India, most wells are open dugwells, often lined with bricks or stones. In Saurashtra, Telangana, much of Karnataka and Tamilnad, such wells can offer 1000 cubic meter or more of storage. Can the Furaat design--which requires constructing the entire structure anew--be adapted to existing wells?

    Tushaar Shah, Senior Fellow, International Water Management Institute, Colombo

  8. Your blog definitely got some nice info about the the rain water harvesting. It will surely give a basic idea of how it works.


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