Translating Historical Water Wisdom to Contemporary Challenges

John A. . Koepke, Leslie Johnson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Over the past several decades, there has been an increasing awareness of the need to manage our water systems differently. Landscape architects often refer to this shift as the movement away from grey infrastructure to green infrastructure, and these ideas have become predominant in landscape architectural education, as well as practice. The necessity behind this shift is evident when discussing issues related to climate change, water resource scarcity, and growing populations, particularly in developing countries. These are the areas of the world where climate change, and its accompanying issues, are being most keenly felt, and often where there are the fewest landscape architects in practice. Many of the key tenets of green infrastructure are not new, however, and in fact parallel many historical water practices. My research examines traditional water management techniques from around India and how they can be applied to address contemporary environmental, social, and cultural challenges not only in India, but countries around the world. For example, the Indian stepwell, a feature that embraces the fluidity and adaptability of water levels, is a direct contrast to sea walls and the concrete water channels found in many Western cities. Another example, before colonialization in India, many villages in rural Maharashtra captured rainwater and stored it in ponds. These structures needed to be routinely de-silted, but this process was often undertaken as a community festival, where silt was gathered and considered a “prasad,” a present, to enrich their farm fields. This is an approach to water system maintenance imbued with cultural significance and value, rather than a purely utilitarian practice. This study describes the many lessons for sustainable water management in terms of construction techniques, socio-cultural structures and aesthetic interpretation, and suggests that historical water wisdom can lead to many elegant solutions to contemporary issues.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationWaterSmart Innovation Conference 2018
StatePublished - 2018


Dive into the research topics of 'Translating Historical Water Wisdom to Contemporary Challenges'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this