genius of space

water treatment and waste upcycling for Langrug Informal Settlement


This initiative developed from, and forms part of the Western Cape 110% Green Initiative. The Biomimicry Genius of Space project is a registered flagship project of 110% Green. This initiative combines two priorities of the Western Cape Government – the Berg River and the Green Economy – to find an innovative solution to water pollution in the Berg River. BiomimicrySA is working together with John Todd Ecological Designs to design and implement the innovative solution to the wastewater challenge. John Todd Ecological Design, has constructed dozens of Eco-Machine wastewater treatment systems based on Dr. John Todd’s visionary ecological philosophy and award-winning practical designs in eleven countries on five continents around the world. The team working on this challenge also includes In/formal South, Isidima, Maluti Water, WaterLove Projects, Greenhouse Systems Development and CORC.

Genius of Space Project Final


Water has been identified as one of the major risks facing the Western Cape and is also being prioritised in the Green Economy Strategic Framework. An innovative project was conceptualised in 2012 in conjunction with biomimicrySA and the 110% Green Project to address the issue of water pollution in the Western Cape.

phase 1 - scoping

Between February and early April 2013 biomimicrySA successfully completed a scoping phase for the Genius of Space Project and delivered a feasibility report. The areas that were explored were aligned to the Berg River Improvement Plan and included:

  1. Water Quality Monitoring 
  2. Waste Water Treatment 
  3. Upgrading Informal Settlements 
  4. Agricultural Best Practices 
  5. Riparian Zone Rehabilitation and 
  6. Proper Pricing of Water 

The feasibility report focused specifically on the following questions:

  • "Can biomimicry impact positively on the challenges experienced in the Berg River area?” 
  • “In which way can biomimicry have an impact?”

During the course of this phase, biomimicrySA used the biomimicry tools and methodology to explore both global and locally appropriate technology solutions to the challenges relating to the 6 areas above. In addition, the research included identifying locally attuned organisms and systems of the area (the Genius of Place). The team also identified potential opportunities for job creation informed by Blue Economy thinking.

The outcomes of the feasibility report were presented by biomimicrySA to the key stakeholders in April 2013. The presentation highlighted examples of Biomimicry Technology, Biomimicry Methodology, and Biomimicry Thinking that offer possible solutions to each of the 6 areas listed above. Three primary issues were identified as having the biggest impact on the health of the Berg River system:

  1. Informal settlements and the difficulties in dealing with grey and black wastewater, and solid waste that bypass the formal system.
  2. The current wastewater treatment plants and how they operate 
  3. The loss of indigenous vegetation along the river which would act as a buffer to naturally filter certain excess pollutants.

Phase 2 of the project began in May 2013 with the aim of developing a strategic plan for implementation of a biomimicry solution for one of the key challenges identified.


phase 2 - discover

Phase 2 involved research into practical strategies inspired by nature to deal with water related issues in the Berg River area in Franschhoek. The focus was on assessing and addressing issues surrounding wastewater, storm water and solid waste treatment in informal settlements along the Berg River. These settlements are estimated to account for a high proportion of toxins and waste entering the Berg River.

This phase was a deep research phase that seeked to understand the context, both from a social and environmental perspective, helping to locate the project within an appropriate informal settlement. This settlement chosen needed to be receptive and fertile to ensure the project can be held and nurtured by those that will be the eventual owners of the outcomes. Langrug informal settlement was selected as the focus for this more detailed biomimicry study.

During this phase the team explored the key issues of water, wastewater, stormwater and solid waste management through site visits and engagement with the community through CORC. In addition, detailed research was undertaken around the Genius of Space – i.e. nature’s strategies and principles for managing water, wastewater, stormwater and waste in the local ecosystem. The research identified 25 different strategies from nature from which 3 key strategies were explored deeper to abstract design principles from nature. The team then designed conceptual solutions for the challenges in Langrug – with a focus on solutions at source – i.e. bioremediaton drainage channels for stormwater and greywater, and the use of ecomachines (biomimicry wastewater treatment systems) for treating sewerage at source.


phase 3 - design

Phase 3 of this project began in Feb 2014 and continued until March 2015. This phase involved engaging with the community in Langrug, together with local municipalities and provincial government stakeholders, to locate and design prototype biomimicry solutions to the key challenges identified in phase 2. These are to address the challenges of treating the wastewater and managing stormwater in the drainage channels in the informal settlement, as well as managing the solid waste to prevent it from ending up in the wastewater.  This phase also included an economic feasibility assessment for the design and the opportunities for community owned and managed infrastructure. The designs and business plan were then approved for implementation.





phase 4 - implementation

Phase 4 of this project began in September 2015 and construction began in January 2016. This phase includes monitoring and research by postgraduate students funded by the Department of Science & Technology and the Water Research Commission. The process is being documented with the aim of learning as much as possible from the prototype phase. Lessons learned will determine the feasibility of implementing this within the whole community and possibly to other informal settlements.

Restoring the health of the community  the river

Restoring the health of the community  the river