Safe Agua Colombia

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September 16, 2013

In this repost, we share thoughts and images from Art Center students currently participating in the Fall 2013 Safe Agua Colombia studio led by Art Center faculty Penny Herscovitch, Dan Gottlieb and Javier Palomares.  The Safe Agua team recently conducted field research in Altos del Pino, Bogota, Colombia with the goal of co-creating with families, to design innovative solutions to overcome water poverty and make a real world impact.  Safe Agua Columbia, (part of the Safe Agua Initiative) is an educational partnership between Socialab and (the Innovation Center of South American NGO TECHO).

 “Resilience in the simplest terms, can be defined as a system’s ability to mitigate and withstand disturbances and to bounce back afterwards, while continuing to function.  Since 2009 and our first collaboration with Techo and Socialab, the Safe Agua initiative has offered us the unique opportunity to explore the role of designing with purpose and for resilence with families that have limited water access in informal settlements.   This new chapter of Safe Agua, in Colombia, with the team just back from an initial field research module, already presents immense promise.”

– Mariana Amatullo, Co-Founder & Vice President, Designmatters

No research trip is without its limitations—reordering and shifting of schedules, unforeseen setbacks, and the fits and starts of building human connections. Safe Agua Colombia is no exception. Our team, however, has been cohesive and flexible, bonding quickly and adapting to the reality of working in Bogotá.


Whether learning the community challenges of Altos del Pino or the Merengue, we have maintained a sense of wonder and a high level of intensity—the defining factors that keep us moving forward. – Michael Mcdowell,  Graduate Broadcast Cinema

tumblr_msgms3yMFJ1sgl8sro1_1280Quick drawing on the field. Each family has a tank or two on the roof of their houses where they store water. – Adriana Crespo, Illustration


Students track the process that a resident from Altos del Pino has to follow in order to save and store water.


Not all new construction is new.  This building is constructed using a combination of new and recycled materials. Including yes soda bottles. – Stefanie Dhillon, Environmental Design

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Our host family consists of Arasely, her three young sons (Camillo, Jefferson and Ivan), her husband (Juancho), her brother (Sander), and her mother (Maria). Upon arriving today, we found out our family had run out of clean water for the week. They had about 50 Liters left which was contaminated by rice and potato soup that the youngest son had accidentally spilled into it. Together, we walked over to Araselys next-door neighbor and asked to borrow 10 Liters of water to last them until they receive their next supply of water tomorrow. Shingo and I carried the water back to the house and quickly realized the difficulty of gingerly carrying a full bucket of water while walking upon uneven ground. At noon, we observed as Arasely cooked lunch for us: arroz (rice), pescado (fish), arrepa (flatbread), arveja (peas), and limonada (lemonade). Because of lack of space, Araselli had to use the floor to prepare a portion of the meal. Over lunch, we shared many laughs and shared pictures of our families and our loved ones. They got a kick out of American Hiphop music and Shingos massaging skills. We ended our meal with learning different phrases in Spanish and in return they learned different phrases in Japanese. The best part of today was when we handed our sketchbooks and pens to Arasely and Sander to illustrate their family members and their ideal home. They have dreams of a large bathtub in a separate room from their toilet and sink, a standing shower with a large showerhead, rooms with many places to sit, a toilet with a flusher, a bed to himself/herself, a flourishing garden, and a place for the family to gather together.

– Kristina Jesena, Environmental Design & Shingo Mamiya, Product Design


Today we had our farewell with the families of Altos del Pino. Ajiaco was cooked over a fire. Tears were shed, Ciao’s exchanged, and bonds that will last a lifetime were solidified. We all feel truly blessed to have been a part of this trip.

– Michael McDowell, Graduate Broadcast Cinema & Adriana Crespo, Illustration


Ongoing since 2009, Safe Agua is an educational partnership between Socialab (the Innovation Center of South American NGO TECHO) and the Designmatters Program at Art Center, hosted by the Environmental Design Department. Student teams have worked with families in the slums of Campamento San Jose, Santiago, Chile and Cerro Verde, Lima, Peru.