credit Peter Greste
words Christopher Turner
The Community Cooker was the winner of the inaugural World Design Impact Prize for socially responsible projects, awarded at the launch of Helsinki World Design Capital in February. Developed by Kenyan architect Jim Archer, who was looking for an answer to Nairobi’s rubbish problem, the community cooker turns waste to energy. The unemployed, who can’t afford kerosene or other fossil fuels, bring rubbish to be incinerated in exchange for time on the cooker, where they can boil water and prepare food on hobs or in one of two ovens large enough to roast a goat. The cooker might later be used for water distillation and electricity generation. Archer estimates that the burning of rubbish will save 2,400 mature trees a year being destroyed to make charcoal.
The prototype was built in Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, and it is hoped that the project will be rolled out soon to other areas and developing countries. The cooker needs to reach high temperatures in order to consume toxins rather than release them into the air. It can achieve this heat thanks to a local metalworker, who offered some chance advice. Firebox Francis, as he was known, suggested that the architects include a combustion system that drip-fed small amounts of used engine oil on to a hot plate. This boosted temperatures from 270 to 880°C, well above WHO guidelines.
The $10,000 device can be connected to an ablution block, enabling people to use hot water in bath stalls, and a restaurant annexe where food can be served. The 10 sq m cooker is large enough for ten people to work around it and there is a wall to separate the drying racks and shoot system, through which the device is fed (five people are employed for this purpose), ensuring that the conditions of food preparation are hygienic. It is the best kind of social project: “One man’s trash,” says Archer, “is another man’s treasure.”