A group of friends develop an innovative solution to preserve the authenticity of their cities
09 Jun 2022
Mediterranean towns like Valletta (Malta), Cádiz (Spain), Palermo (Sicily), or Zakynthos (a Greek Island), are globally famous for their ancient historical architecture. But what might stand out to a visitor’s eyes is the high number of water tanks and other technical elements covering the towns’ roofs, terraces, streets, balconies, and even historic buildings.
Water tanks are especially useful in places affected by drought, but for Domenico Pititto, Founder and CEO of Jebbia, these plastic structures “destroy the authenticity and magic” of the Mediterranean cities and villages.
Domenico and his friends, Alessandro Trovato (an expert in circular business models), and Roberta Suppo (an engineer and architect), started to talk about this issue during Italy’s second lockdown, in autumn 2020.
“We were brainstorming, and we talked about how some of our city’s technical elements, especially the water tanks, were having a negative impact on the landscape and the urban heritage of our town,” says Domenico.
Not only do they degrade the authenticity of the urban and architectural heritage (in towns that often depend on tourism for their economic welfare), but research also shows that, if not covered properly, these tanks can become fertile ground for harmful organisms and sediments such as polluting microplastics to spread.
The three friends came up with an idea to enhance the architectural heritage of the Mediterranean towns that they are particularly attached to. Their product, a green cover made of reusable material, will ‘simply’ hide and cover the electric cabins, water tanks, air conditioner engines and other technical elements that invade many roofs and terrasses. One unit of their modular garden even has a pocket containing native plants that have been carefully selected for their adaptation capacities to different and extreme environments.
A few months after their first discussion, Domenico, Alessandro and Roberta participated in the Hackathon Resto al Sud organised by Invitalia in Bologna and ended up winning the Best Concept Award with Jebbia.
The name they chose for their start-up shows the belonging that the three friends have for Mediterranean culture, history, and architecture. Domenico explains that ‘Gebbia’ is a word of Arabic origin, and in Sicilian, it refers to the cisterns found in the countryside that are used to collect water for irrigation.
“Innovation, says Domenico, is about tackling problems with sustainable solutions, improving existing technology with new procedures and concepts.”
With Jebbia, the team came up with a multi-purpose solution that has a multitude of beneficial impacts. It “absorbs CO2, improves the water quality in the tanks, extending the life of the technical elements, and it also reuses technical spaces to increase the urban landscaping by creating a dense network of green spots, lowering the phenomenon of heat waves and the damage of water bombs,” explains Domenico.
The team participated and won a prize during the 2021 edition of Climathon organised in Cagliari. Climathon is a place-based programme orchestrated by EIT Climate-KIC that encourages citizens to brainstorm local solutions to transform their city towards a net-zero carbon economy as well as mitigate and adapt to climate change. The theme of the ideathon was how to rethink urban landscapes to accompany adaptation to climate change, and their challenge was around urban voids and residual spaces as drivers of adaptation processes.
“In a few weeks, our first prototype will be ready, and we can’t wait to collect data from it to improve our project. Meanwhile we are developing our start-up, adding new professionals to the team as well as partners that will help us to enter the market,” says Domenico.
Jebbia won the first prize (€3,000) at the EIT Community New European Bauhaus Ideation Awards, a competition organised by the European Union to celebrate existing beautiful, sustainable, and inclusive achievements and support younger generations to further develop emerging concepts and ideas. The Sicilian startup also won the Grand Jury Award (Best of Bests) at the EIT Community New European Bauhaus Ideathon Awards Ceremony last week during the Festival of the New European Bauhaus. They will receive 10,000 euros to develop their product.
“This award is important for Jebbia, it helps us promote our project, enhance our network, create relationships with new partners and share our ideas with other young professionals from all over Europe,” says Domenico.