The design is pure genius. Modular glass blocks, configured to capture, refocus and intensify sunlight, form the sheathing for the exterior surface of a building. Water from sinks, showers and hand washing (known as greywater) flows through channels in the glass block. Inside the building, the blocks create a diffused daylight which eliminates solar heat gain, keeping rooms cooler and reducing the need for high-energy heating and cooling mechanisms. It’s also easier on the eyes.
That in itself is noteworthy, but the SEWR (Solar Enclosure for Water Reuse), which recently won a SPARK Award for its design, does much more. Add several water filtration barriers, and factor in the heating potential of glass blocks designed to amplify sunlight, and you have a passive solar system which disinfects a building’s greywater by generating tremendous heat to destroy harmful microorganisms.
As populations rise, using more and more potable water, and as climate change intensifies the negative effects of global ocean and wind currents, causing severe drought, water is finally being viewed as the precious but finite resource it really is. In fact, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, or USGS, 29 percent of water deliveries from water treatment facilities in 1995 went to commercial, industrial and institutional (CII) users. That figure is undoubtedly higher now. The amount of water needed to run U.S. power plants is even higher, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists: in 2008, it ran somewhere between 60 and 170 billion gallons, or four times as much as all U.S. residents use.
The key, as designer Jason Vollen notes, is conservation. The passive process also provides thermal energy in the form of heated water, which helps to offset the need for heating and cooling. Not to mention the fact that the glass-block exterior is aesthetically stunning!