María Arquero de Alarcón Imag(e)ing the Urban Water Commons

The necessity and desire to control water, a vital resource for life, have generated deep, irreversible territorial transformations. Resting on the banks of the Sabarmati River, the Indian city of Ahmedabad has long celebrated water as a driver of urbanity and inclusive citizenship. This studio section builds on the many natures of the urban water commons and examines the ever-changing relationship of the river and its city as a productive breeding ground for architectural and urban design experimentation. The societal construction of alternative, collective water imaginaries starts by recognizing the many cultural, spiritual, and symbolic meanings around water and connecting us with an increasingly distant nature. It is this elusive condition of water that drives this studio pedagogy. Students’ projects adopt different formats and disciplinary positions while reclaiming the designers’ cultural agency to reframe socio-environmental agendas and political interests in the search of an urban water commons.

he immersive two-week field trip to Ahmedabad and the Habitat Design Workshop in collaboration with the Vāstu Shilpā Foundation for Studies and Research in Environmental Design gave students access to local knowledge and the cues to read cultural values and attitudes toward water, while offering a glimpse into the intense city life. Collectively, the studio was attentive to narrative as a constructive medium to shed light on the hidden mechanisms that could drive new collectivities, stewards of the urban water commons.

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Student Work

Anhong Li – “Urban Wall as Heterotopia ”

This project scrutinizes Ahmedabad’s recent development trends and addresses the legacy of social segregation, profit-driving policy, spatial erasure and citizens’ identity loss. The outcomes are the progressive wiping off of historic urban fabric and the loss of a diverse citizenship. Reading the city as found and re-establishing new urban imaginaries, the project takes on the pervasive type of the “urban wall” as a potential form of power resistance. Through the registration of contextual observations, walls become containers of a multiplicity of identities, markers of difference in the urban continuum.

Jessica Yelk, Tristan Snyder, Gwen Gell – “The Spirit of the Stepwell”

Inspired by the legacy of the Stepwells of Ahmedabad, a series of interventions across the city embody the manifestation of the water cycle, pausing time and awakening the dormant urban natures hidden in the city’s everyday life. The medium of a pop- up book allow for personal exploration and deeper or faster reading. As an artifact, the book interrogates the role of the design disciplines to provoke, write and render visible new urban imaginaries through the very citizens who would steward them. The different acts unfold environmental interventions and interrogate their impacts of of design on human experience in their search for the wonder of water.

Yixin Miao, Shourya Jain – “SEEDS”

Ahmedabad’s contemporary urban morphology is a thick collage of layers accumulated through time and continuously negotiated by disparate interests and urban actors. This project proposes the incremental co-production of urban space, ensure inclusive participatory frameworks and address people’s right to the city. By rendering water visible and sparkling new urban programs, the project performs as a material practice to invite disparate publics to celebrate water and urban life. As a result, the project tests how urban infrastructure materialize, condense, and transform without imposing predetermined meaning, seeding a multiplicity of uses and attitudes overtime.

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