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Tami Banh, Ali Chen

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TYPE: Design Competition

LOCATION: Can Tho, Vietnam

YEAR: 2020

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Fertiloo-p: Sanitary Symbiosis on the Mekong is a competition proposal for a network of floating toilets and composting port embedded within the Cai Rang Floating Market on the Vietnamese Mekong Delta. Located in Can Tho, the largest city of the Delta, Cai Rang was formed to meet the trading needs of this water-based economy since the mid-1800s and now greets up to a thousand visitors per day. The largest floating market in the region, Cai Rang is a major trading hub for local produce, a popular tourist destination, and home to hundreds of local households many of which spend their entire lives on sampan boats. However, as with many informal settlements, Cai Rang market faces serious sanitation issues, starting with a complete lack of public toilet facilities. Boat residents often directly deposit excrement into the river that is simultaneously used for cooking, bathing, and clothes washing. These sanitation issues are interconnected with other challenges - including economic (unstable income), health (limited safe drinking water and health facilities), and education (unequal access to schools) - that the Cai Rang community faces on a daily basis.

To begin to address some of these issues, the open-loop, bottom-up concept of Fertiloo-p introduces a new waste-income economy that links into the existing Cai Rang market. Fertiloo-p COLLECTS waste directly at its source via individually owned WC sampans; GATHERS the market community around new floating health hubs via an aggregation of these new WC boats; CONVERTS this waste into eco-friendly fertilizer at a community composting port, and uses the converted compost to GROW produce at local orchards that is then sold at the Cai Rang market for consumption and eventually waste, thus completing the open-loop cycle. Fertiloo-p addresses the sanitation needs of the Cai Rang economy from an individual user to a broader network level while providing the community with much-needed social & health amenities.



A network of floating toilet sampans at varying scales are introduced into the local economy, where a small initial investment by a household creates a new job in the form of waste collection capsules that can be sold at the sanitation port once they are filled. These floating sampan typologies range from small pods that can attach to pre-owned boats, to larger boats that are designed as public toilet facilities that also contain health amenities like pharmacies and hand-washing stations. As a kit-of-parts, each of these boats is designed with local bamboo in a dome shape that allows local hyacinths to grow over time, plants that naturally clean the water as well as provide privacy to the toilet user. These domes serve as iconic visual signifiers of their internal uses, taking cues from the local context in which boats often hang produce on poles in order to advertise their goods & wares from from far away.

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As part of the existing informal social structure of Cai Rang market, a gathering of multiple sampans that sell a diversity of produce become small hubs of social & economic exchanges. By introducing a new typology of toilet sampans that are designed to aggregate in specific ways, Fertiloo-p formalizes these social & community exchanges around communal public bathrooms that also contain health (pharmacy), educational (books & newspapers), and social amenities for a community that is in dire need of them. The aggregation of multiple toilet sampans occurs informally from the scale of two boats to a gathering of 5+ boats, a kit-of-parts that forms a greater sum into community amenities like a floating classroom, outdoor theater, traveling clinic, or simple gathering spaces.


Once each of the individual toilet sampans have filled their capsules with waste, each of these capsules can be deposited and sold for a small profit at Fertiloo-p’s composting port. At this port facility, a mixture of ash, lime, and hay (taken from the orchard) is mixed into the waste capsule which is then left to decompose into eco-friendly fertilizer over a period of 3 months. This composting process has already proven successful in other parts of Vietnam but not yet to an economy of scale due to facility and storage reasons. By providing designated facilities and an economic incentive for this waste-composting to occur, a network of central composting ports along the Mekong Delta will give the economy of scale necessary for Fertiloo-p to succeed. Over the port’s pier, umbrella-like structures collect and recycle greywater as well as function as sun-shading devices for the docking toilet sampans. In addition to its composting facilities, community gathering spaces and public restrooms are housed under larger bamboo dome structures that provide a lattice work for local plants to grow and bio-remediate the local ecology.


Once the decomposition process has finished at Fertiloo-p’s composting ports, the waste capsules that now contain remediated eco-friendly fertilizer are sold to existing farmers around the Mekong delta for agricultural and orchard uses. Farmers use remediated soil to grow  produce that is then sold wholesale back to individual boat owners and re-sellers for consumption by the general market of Cai Rang where it eventually becomes waste yet again.

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